Thursday, December 31, 2009

Pictures of Hollis Woods

This is one of those books that I sit and stare at the computer for hours before I can finally bring myself to review it.

Pictures of Hollis Woods it wonderful and frustrating all at the same time. Hollis Woods is an extremely talented artist who is in a constant state of limbo in the foster care system. She continually hates her foster family and runs away. I have been involved with foster care for most of my life. My parents took in infants and toddlers so while I never experienced someone Hollis's age in our home, I had a hard time sympathizing with her running away all of the time, even from homes she liked. Sometimes I just wished she could stay and be happy. This frustration with her running did not however keep me from liking the book. It is well written, on about a 4th grade level and it is a very quick read. I read the entire book on a short airplane ride.

There wasn't very much suspense as the story was pretty easy to figure out but it also meant that I didn't have to focus all of my energy on reading. I like books that do not require me to read the same sentence over and over again to understand the meaning. I would recommend this book if you are looking for a short read that ends happy.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Book Review- A Girl Named Zippy

I'm no memoir writer but if I was to write a book about my life, I think it may end up something like A Girl Named Zippy. Our memoirs wouldn't be similar because we had any of the same type of memories but because they would be a jumble of memories. This book skipped from memory to memory in a fashion that I would normally hate but for some reason loved this time around.

What is this book about?This book is about nothing in particular. It is about plain ol' life during her growing up years. About a little girl that we all were a little like while we were growing up. Zippy's childhood years remind me of the American Dream. Not the American Dream that you would put on posters in neighboring countries to try and convince people to immigrate but the American Dream that existed in actuality. A family where animals roam the backyard in farm town America, where mom loves her soap operas and camping, not a extended trip to Europe is every family's summer vacation.

This book is the opposite of what most childhood memoirs are. Instead of telling all of us how many mistakes she made in childhood and what she has done as an adult to rectify them, Kimmel tells her stories with childlike simplicity. She makes no excuses for her actions. She states them in the voice seemingly of her inner child and lets you judge for yourself. Don't worry, you won't have anytime to judge Kimmel for her childhood actions, you will be too busy laughing at them to realize they were a little crazy.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Fixing Red Eye in Picasa

I am a bigger red eye nazis than I realized. I had to go all the way back to pictures from my DAD's mission to find a suitable picture.

Find your picture using Picasa. Go Here to download it for free. Click on it and make it bigger. On the Basic Fixes pallet which is the first one that opens when you make the image bigger, select the red eye button. It is the top right one.

Picasa will then auto correct any red eye it finds. Your job is to make sure it corrected all of the right things.
It will highlight green all of the places it thinks need to be red eye corrected. Sometimes it cannot find the red eye and you will have to drag a little box around the eye. Just click on the eye and then drag and a little white box will appear as it did with the guy in the center of this picture.
As with this fellow, sometimes Picasa selects too much. All you have to do is bring your mouse to rest over the green boxes you don't like and I little white X will appear. Click that X on the green boxes that shouldn't be there.
Hit apply and you have no more redeye.

To finish your red eye fix, you need to return to your library and select the Save to Disk option in the top right hand corner. This will save over your originals. Saving over your originals is bad when you want to keep the original but if you have just improved by fixing the red eye you probably just want the improved version.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tasty Tuesdays- Fish Tacos

I admit it. I am not that big of a fish fan. My husband is and it caused some dinnertime clashing for awhile there. He had a meal he made up called fish tacos and I just couldn't get into it. We spent some time tweaking it together and now it is a favorite of both of ours.

For the Fish Taco Part of the recipe:

  • 4 tilapia fish fillets (fresh or frozen)
  • bread crumbs
  • shredded Monterrey cheese
  • green cabbage
  • tortillas
  • ranch dressing
  • chipotle sauce
  • 3-4 Roma tomatoes
  • 1 small bunch cilantro
  • 1/4 onion
  • 3 limes

Coat tilapia fillets in bread crumbs. Place in an oiled pan with a small amount of lime juice. Cover and let steam cook.
Make pico de gallo salsa by finely chopping tomatoes, onions and cilantro. Combine ingredients.
Make sauce by combining equal amounts ranch dressing and chipotle sauce.
Serve fish in tortillas. Top with finely chopped cabbage, shredded cheese, sauce, pico de gallo or mango salsa and lightly spray with lime juice

My favorite is to make homemade mango salsa to go with it :

  • 1 1/2 c. chopped, peeled mangos.
  • 1 medium red sweet pepper, seeded and finely chopped;
  • 1/4 c. thinly sliced green onions;
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil;
  • 1/2 tsp finely shredded lime peel;
  • 1 Tbsp lime juice;
  • 1 Tbsp vinegar;
  • 1/4 tsp each salt and black pepper. 

Mix it all together and you have great mango salsa. The original recipe calls for a chopped poblano pepper which I never have just lying around so I nixed it and it is still great. My friend Jan is the one who introduced me to the salsa recipe and she said it is also great with peaches instead of mango. Since we never buy peaches I have never tried it that way but if peaches are your thing you just might find that a tasty alternative!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Photo Thursdays- How to desaturate in Picasa.

Yes, I know it isn't Thursday. Those titles are more guidelines than actual rules.

Do you want to know how to turn a full color photo into this?

It is really easy and it is a super popular effect right now. Since these are photo tips for the average mom, I am going to show you how to get the effect you want using Picasa. A few posts behind? Get the information on downloading Picasa here.

Select the picture you want to desaturate in your Picasa. It will look like this. Select the effects tab.

Select saturation. It is in the first column, second from the bottom.

You can then use the slider tool to decide how much saturation you want in your picture. You can add more color by sliding the bar to the right or less color by sliding to the left. If you slide all the way to left it will turn it black and white. Slide the bar to the left until the picture has the amount color you want in it.

PICASA NOTE: If you save a picture in Picasa, it saves over your original. You will need to make a copy of your pictures and then play with the copies if you don't want your originals lost.

You can leave a lot of color or like in the picture below, you can take almost all of the color out.

See how there is just a little bit of red left in it?

This is also my perfered way to make a picture black and white.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Hand Print Ornaments

Note: Mine turned out pretty odd because I got extremely impatient. So be patient and yours will be great!

Get Model Magic from your local craft store. You can buy white or buy colored, it is up to you. Roll it out, but you still want it pretty thick. Press your little one's foot or hand into the dough. Cut out around the print to be the shape you want, such as a heart. Then press the tip of a pen or other small object into the corner of the Model Magic. Let it air dry for a few days and then string ribbon through the hole and you have an extremely memorable Christmas ornament.

I have tried coloring my Model Magic before and it didn't work very well, so if you want colored it might be best to just buy the colored dough. Model Magic is the best thing I have found for this project. It won't break like plaster if dropped and it doesn't crack like dried play dough does.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Photo Thursdays

I love crafting, cooking and reviewing things but my really passion is photography. I am starting photo Thursdays, to give everywhere basic photo instruction to help everyone have just generally better photographs.

My advice this Thursday, only works for PC users. Update:A friend just told me they were able to download picasa onto their Mac. Wahoo! Picasa didn't work on Macs before! Get Picasa. It is free and it is wonderful, especially for those that can't afford photo shop. Go Here to download it for free.

Picasa will import all of your pictures into its program and will allow you to organize all of them within the program.
Then you can click on pictures to make them bigger.
It has all of the basic functions you need such as being able to crop photographs.
It has basic tuning. You can add more fill light, highlights, shadows or play with the color temperature.
It also has basic special effects options.
You can sharpen photos, turn them sepia or black and white, add a tint, soft focus and the like.
Picasa is really fabulous for those easy basic fixes. So if you don't have it and you want better photos and can't afford photoshop this is your first basic step. I have photo shop and I still use picasa for photo organization and such.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

An easy Christmas decoration

I have some glass Christmas ornaments from my very first Christmas tree with my husband. I love them and did not want the destroyed. Normally, I operate under the idea that you should teach your child no to touch something rather than be forced to move it but these ones I decided I could do something more creative with and not even start the battle of learning not to touch something new.

You will need a glass vase
your favorite Christmas ornaments
a color coordinating ribbon

I basically just added my favorite ornaments to my vase. I tied a ribbon around the middle and added some fake flowers to top it off. I bought the fake flowers at the dollar store and the vase at a thrift store. The other things I had on hand. Total price $1.50

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tasty Tuesdays - Easy Cheesy Chicken

4 or 5 chicken breasts
2 cans of cream of chicken soup
1 3/4 cups of mozzarella cheese
2 cups Italian bread crumbs
2 1/2 Tbsp. butter

Place thawed chicken in a greased glass baking dish. Spread the soup over the chicken. Sprinkle cheese and then bread crumbs over the dish. Pour the butter, melted, on top. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. We eat this with rice. Super, super easy!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Christmas Crafts with Kids part 2 of 3

Want to make a mini snow globe? All you need is glitter, a baby food jar, a small plastic item that won't be destroyed by water and hot glue.

Clean your baby food jar our and dry.
Take your little plastic ornament and glue it to the inside of the baby food jar lid.
Fill the baby food jar with water and glitter. Screw the lid on and hot glue the edges so it can't be screwed off.
Shake and enjoy!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Christmas Crafts with Kids part 1 of 3

This are super fun and easy ornaments for your tree. This craft probably work a little better with older children if you use glass ornaments or any age if you use plastic. I have never personally used plastic ones so I am not sure how they would turn out.

First of all you need clear ornaments. You can use any size. I was doing these for a birthday party so I picked smaller ones.

Then you pick two colors of acrylic paint. Two colors work really well. If you start adding too many more you just get a muddy brown. Add a small dab to the inside of the ball. Roll the ball around until paint covers all of the walls. If you are having a hard time getting it to coat the walls, add a little more paint.

Then leaving the cap off, put the ornaments upside down in an egg carton, or whatever you have lying around to let the excess paint drip out.
When they are dry, put the caps back on and hang on your tree. Beautiful ornaments, that are cheap and easy to make. The little kids love rolling the paint around in them too!

Friday, December 4, 2009

How to bow holders

If your little girl is anything like mine, she has a million bows. They are literary everywhere in our house. This our simple solution to keep them neat.

First you need a wooden shape. You can usually buy these for about a dollar at a craft store.

My husband wanted our little girl's bow holders to be special so he carved the wooden piece himself.
Then you need to paint it to match your decor. Cut a piece of white grosgrain ribbon, mine are a couple of feet long. Using hot glue, hot glue the ribbon on the back of your wooden piece. Then glue, don't nail, one of those saw tooth hangers onto the back. Most of the wood pieces are so thin that if you nail it, it will poke through to the other side.
Add pipe cleaners, buttons or any other embellishments that you want to have on it.
Voila! A place to store your bows.
We love these. We have two and are in desperate need of a third.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Candy Christmas Ornaments

Need more cute ornaments for your tree? We made these out of Styrofoam balls, Spice Drops, Hot Glue, Red Hots and ribbon.

Here's how. You get 2 inch Styrofoam balls. They are already pretty heavy at this size, so you probably don't want to any bigger or it might start breaking tree branches or falling off. Glue the spice drops (or gum drops, they just don't sell gum drops here in the RGV) all around the Styrofoam ball. Squish the bottom of some of the drops if you need to squeeze them into tighter space. Leave a small opening at what you want to be the top of the ornament. Most boxes of drops come in assorted colors so we separated them into what we thought were cute color combinations but we did some rainbow ones too.

After your drops are in place, get a loop of ribbon and a small push pin. Put the push pin through the ribbon and then push it in to the small opening you left at the top. Put a dab of glue there so it will stay. They glue color coordinating skittle or red hots over the top of the pin so it isn't noticeable. Voila!
We also crushed candy canes and rolled the balls in them, using hot glue. Cute, but I burned my fingers a million times!

Since there is so much hot glue used in this project, this is probably a nap time/kids in school project.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Book Reviews of Gail Carson Levine books

It 's a good thing that Ella Enchanted was the first Gail Carson Levine book I ever read, or else I might not have read another one. Her other books aren't bad but they are definitely not as good as Ella Enchanted. I have been working my way through all of her books in hoping of finding another gem. I have been a little surprised to find out that the author of one of my favorite books was spot on with Ella Enchanted and sometimes way off with her other stories. Here are my two latest reads by her.

Levine often does a new twist on a classic tail. This is her version of the old tale involving a fairy giving a kind girl gems that fall from her mouth every time she talks.
Honestly? I hated her version. The kind girl seemed practically useless with no ability to stand up for herself. She married a prince that only loved her for her gems and even though her life is better at the end of the book, it is not great. If happily ever after meant ending up like the princess in this book, we are all better off in our regular own lives.

It is a short read and easy to understand so it might be a pick for those of you who read to your little girls but there is no real value to it at all.
HOW DISAPPOINTING! Sleeping Beauty is one of my all time favorite fairy tales and I was looking forward to it. Levine's Cinderella is so great, her Sleeping Beauty has to be as good, right? Nope. Not at all. It was kind of boring, nobody liked the princess because she knew too much. The princess she ended up marrying only loved her because she had the answer to all of his questions. It took me a little while to get through this book, not because it was long but because it couldn't hold my interest.

What you should have learned from this: This books were just alright but Ella Enchanted is great!

Tasty Tuesdays- Tomato Noodle Soup

I wanted tomato soup of some sort the other day and I couldn't find a recipe that I thought looked good, so I made one up. This is super simple. Chop up a carrot and celery add to a couple of cans of tomato soup. You can keep your soup condensed and just use more cans but that is a little thick for me, so I diluted it with milk. I used whole milk to make it really creamy but you can use a lower fat milk if you want.

While those ingredients are heating together, make a package of pasta as directed and brown a 1/2 lb- to a full pound of ground beef. Drain the beef, add to the soup. Drain pasta when tender and add to soup.

Let the soup all simmer together until the celery and carrots are tender. I add Italian seasoning and a little bit of dill to my soup to top it off. It was pretty good. If you have a great tomato noodle soup recipe let me know. I would love to try someone else's.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Tasty Tuesdays- Leftover Thanksgiving Turkey Edition

So I know some of you are sitting there with a huge amount of turkey leftover in your fridge. You have made the typical leftover turkey pot pie, oodles of deli sandwiches and there is still a mound you don't know what to do with. Here is a recipe for that leftover turkey that will satisfy and make you forget you are technically eating leftovers. It's called cajun chicken, a recipe Seth grew up with.

1lb turkey cut in smallish pieces (when I say 1 lb, I mean put however much you want to in. If you want tons of turkey, go for it. You can also use chicken tenders, which is what this recipe originally called for before we started changing it.)

1/2 red bell pepper
1/2 green bell pepper
5 or 6 sliced mushrooms
1 tsp. Cajun Spice (this you need to be careful on. The Cajun spices we have sampled in Utah seem a little bland while out here they have a fabulous kick to them.)
Angel Hair Pasta (we make 8-10 oz for two people, but this is really up to you.)

Cut the peppers into smallish segments. Saute in olive oil until soft. Saute turkey in olive oil, if you are using chicken you need to make sure to brown in at this point, if you are using turkey it is already cooked so you are basically just heating it back up. Add the Cajun spice to the turkey or chicken while cooking and then add the peppers to the skillet with the chicken/turkey.

The Sauce:
2 1/2 cups chicken broth (we never seem to have chicken broth just laying around so we mixed 2 1/2 cups of water with 2 chicken bouillion cubes.
1 cup sour cream
2 Tbls butter
a dash of black pepper
a dash of cayenne peper (a little cayenne goes a long way so be careful not to ruin your dinner.)

Stir these ingredients together with a wire wisk until sour cream blends in. Pour the sauce over the chicken/turkey and peppers and simmer for 5 minutes.

Here's where it gets tricky. While the chicken/turkey is simmering, mix 3 Tablespoons of cornstarch and a small amount of cold water in a separate bowl. Stire until the mixture is smooth. Add to the skillet and stir for a few minutes to make sure the cornstarch has evenly mixed with the sauce. The amount of cornstarch you need to use can vary from each time you make the meal. The whole point of adding the cornstarch is as a thickener. You can use any other type of thickener, but this is a mild way to get to that perfect consistency.

Once the sauce is mixed, serve on a bed of angel hair pasta. If it's not spicy enough for you, add a little more Cajun spice on top.

It's really not that hard of a meal to make and it tastes fantastic.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Book Review- Princess Academy

My friend Tera recommended this book to me a little while back. I tried Goose Girl first and I couldn't get into to it. I am not sure if it was because I was super stressed at the time or any number of other reasons but I decided that Shannon Hale was not for me. When a copy of Princess Academy came into my hands, I decided to give her a second chance.

I loved it! I feel like there are too many problems going on in the world right now for me to depress myself with sad books, so Princess Academy was a perfect escape. I felt like the book was well written and my favorite part? I was not rooting for the heroine to end up with the prince. In fact, I didn't want her to leave her life with the miners she loved so much. It was a fresh relief to read a fairy tale where you thought the prince was second rate to another character.

One of my major irritations in fairy tales, is helpless female leads. This book soothed my irritations about helpless woman and gave me a heroine that was ready to change her circumstances herself and not wait for the prince to come around.

This book is a really quick read. I read the entire thing on one of those miraculous days when Sofie actually took a nap, so about two hours. It was light reading and entertaining. I felt happy and positive when I finished reading this book, which is what I am looking for from a book right now. It is a pretty entertaining story and worth a read.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Book Review- The Princess Diaries

This book has been on my to read list forever, practically since the movie came out. I finally got around to it last week and it was a cute story. It wasn't the compelling type of book that I want to read over and over again but since it was a quick read, I think it was worth it.

I was surprised about how similar and completely different the book and the movie were all at the same time. There are things about the book that the movie portrays so beautifully and then there are moments in the movie that leave you flipping back through the book wondering where the screen play writers got that idea. (I am not saying the movie isn't great, Lorene pointed out to me that it sounds like I am saying the book is better. No way. This is one of the only times I will say this. THE MOVIE was better.)

The biggest changes (I don't have a problem telling you them because if you choose to read you find out in the first pages.) Mia's dad is still alive in the book and you really hate the grandmother's character. That last part I was especially torn about. I love the grandmother in the movie and so hating her in the book seemed wrong to me. This dilemma is usually why I have a strict read the book before you see the movie policy, so I don't get hooked up on characters because I like the actress that plays them.

Josh is just a jerky and Lily's brother is just as sweet. I did like this book but not enough that I couldn't put it down or I am going to die without it on my shelf. It is worth it, if you need a small escape from the world that isn't going to depress you but you aren't looking for the best written book out there with characters in it that you can't get enough of.

I am glad I read it but honestly I don't see myself picking up the sequels any time in the future.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

My Christmas Wreath

I wanted a Christmas wreath really bad this year. I couldn't find one that I liked that was in the budget, so I made one myself. Here is how it turned out. I followed this tutorial here.

Basically you just take a wire hanger, I used a baby wire hanger because I didn't want to have to buy so many ornaments, and stretch it out to a circle shape. Then you untwist the top part. Before you slide each ornament on, make sure to hot glue the cap on so it can't come off. Then slide the ornaments until you have your wreath the way you like it. Then twist the metal back together and voila!

I really love the way it turned out. It took so many ornaments though. Have a guess? There are about 60 on my little baby wire hanger, imagine if I had used a full sized one. You want to know the best part? All of my ornaments came from the dollar store, this cost me way less than $10 to make. In fact, some of the ornaments came in packs of 15 for a dollar.

Now I just have to convince myself to hang it on my door. I am terrified someone is going to steal it.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Tasty Tuesday's - Zuppa Toscana

It feels cold today, even in Texas. I thought I would share my cold weather favorite, Zuppa Toscana. This is pretty close to the Olive Garden recipe but I make my soup super hearty.


1 lb ground sausage
1 tsp red pepper
1/4 cup chopped green onions
4 Tbsp bacon pieces
1 tsp garlic powder
10 cups water (this water stays in the soup, so make sure to measure it out.)
5 cubes of chicken bouillon
1 cup heavy cream
5 or 6 potatoes
¼ of a bunch of kale

Sautee and crushed red pepper in pot. You can either buy Italian sausage or use your favorite Italian seasonings to spice it up a bit. Drain excess fat and set aside. In the same pan, sauté bacon, green onions and garlic for approximately 15 mins until cooked through. Mix together the chicken bouillon and water in a large pot, then add it to the onions, bacon and garlic. Cook until boiling. Add potatoes and cook until soft, about half an hour. Add heavy cream and cook until thoroughly heated. Stir in the sausage.
Add kale just before serving.

To make this soup really hearty, I add tons and tons of potatoes and sasuage. If you are more of a soupy person, just add what the recipe calls for. I hope you like it. It is delicious!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Book Review- The Time Traveler's Wife

I knew the second I let it escape that I read this book and I didn't review that there would be requests for a review and my suspicions were correct. Honestly? I didn't review it because I didn't know what to say.

I loved this book but there were times when I was completely embarrassed to be loving it. While the story is completely captivating and original, it is riddle with swearing, sex and the like. Sometimes a page had so many F words on it that I would literally turn around hoping no innocent child was reading over my shoulder. Since the basis of the story is a man who time travels and has no control over and since every time he time travels he ends up at his destination nude, it made for some very interesting scenes that the easily offended would be best to not read this book.

If you could get past all of the grit, the underlying story was beautiful, romantic but frustrating and twisting all at the same time. I love that the story switched vantage points and we heard the events from different people.

This story never left be bored but it did leave me blushing a few times.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tasty Tuesdays- Buffalo Chicken Wings

Seth has been begging me to make him wings for a long time now. They aren't exactly a healthy dinner and so I have been resisting. He finally talked me into last week and this is what I came up with. It is super easy and fast. The longest part is just the frying. This is also really affordable when compared to buying wings at a restaurant.

2-3 pounds chicken wings
enough oil to fry wings in
2 tablespoons butter
2 1/2 tablespoons your choice hot sauce
1/2 vinegar

This meal is enough to feed two hungry adults but this recipe is very easily doubled. Buy the chicken wings that are ready to fry (the little bit smaller wings) or you are going to end up cutting off the tips and cutting the wings in half at the joint.

1. Fry chicken wings in oil until cooked inside. I cut each wing open to check, since I have problems with chicken but if you are super sure of your frying skills just fry away.
2. Drain the wings on paper towels.
3. Mix the wings with the sauce.

1. Melt butter in pan.
2. add hot sauce and vinegar.
3. Stir well and then remove from heat.

Serve with celery and ranch!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Crafty Sketchbook

Do you need and inexpensive but super cute present idea for your favorite little artist?
My sister's 7th birthday is the week and I needed something that I could easily mail and I knew she would love. I wanted to give her art supplies until I discovered this.
I bought a regular sketchbook at Wal-mart for just over $3.

I took 12x12 scrapbook paper and covered the entire front.
I used Elmer's No Wrinkle glue, which lived up to its no wrinkle name but it took FOREVER to dry.
Then I used paper shapes I had lying around to decorate the cover. You could use stickers and pretty much anything else to cover the sketchbook. Your little artist might actually love to design their sketchbook themselves.
Voila, a present that she loved and it didn't kill the budget. It actually cost me more to mail it then to make it.