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.