Sunday, September 29, 2013

Family Night at Ringling Bros

Our little family at a blast at Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus this past week. Usually my husband isn't very interested in shows, so we usually take Grandma, but this time he was actually excited to come with us. There was so much to see and the show honestly kept my 4-year-old's attention most of the time. 
Our favorites parts were the juggling and balancing acts. My little one spent the whole night hoping to see somebody juggle and was completely thrilled when they juggled with fire. She was really impressed by all of the "incredibly balance-y people," and she is still talking about the woman who was shot out of cannon. Over all such a fun family experience! 
Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus will be in Salt Lake City for one more night if you haven't had the chance to see the show yet. Ticket prices are $20, $25, $45 (VIP), $60 (Front Row) and $90 (Circus Celebrity). You can see the show, Monday, September 30, at the Energy Solutions Arena at 7:00 PM.

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Friday, September 27, 2013

#Ad Garlic Chicken Alfredo with Tyson Mix and Match

I am a member of the Collective Bias®  Social Fabric® Community. This shop has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for Collective Bias and their client.
 It being the busy season for both my husband and I has tipped the scales in favor of eating out more than not. While it has been keeping us fed, it hasn't been friendly to our wallets or the scale. We made a goal to eat at home more, but we needed quick meals that were healthier than our fast food habit and budget friendly. We decided to try out Tyson's Mix & Match creations found at our local Walmart.
 Tyson Mix and Match Creations come with 5 different proteins, 6 different sauces and 8 sides for 192 different flavor combinations. There are recipe cards located nearby if you need meal ideas, or you can just mix and match on your own. You can create a personalized meal for your family of four for about $10.

For this meal you will need:
Tyson Mix & Match Creations Fully Cooked Diced Chicken
Tyson Mix & Match Roasted Garlic Creamy Alfredo Sauce
A Tyson Mix & Match Side of your choice
Pasta, cooked according to the package directions

 I was surprised how quickly I was able to pull together such a good meal. The sauce came in two different packages, which since I was cooking for just my husband and I was perfect. We used one sauce package and left the other one in the freezer for another day. Thaw the sauce in a bowl of warm water for about 6 minutes and then pour the sauce in a pan and heat on the stove until warm and bubbly.
 Add chicken to a pan and saute until warm about 5 minutes. I sauteed mine with a little bit of Olive Oil for more a blackened chicken flavor. Add chicken and sauce to your pasta and complete with your favorite Mix & Match side.
I am not sure what I was expecting with these new meals from Tyson. Mostly a frozen meal taste, but it wasn't anything like that. My husband and I both really liked the taste of the meal, especially the sauce. I expected my husband to eat his plate just to be nice, but he actually went back for seconds. The perfect quick meals solution. You can see where to find these meals in your own store in our Google + Album here
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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Caramel Bishop Bars

My mom has made these for as long as I can remember. When we were kids, we used to sit and watch a movie while we unwrapped the caramels for her. Now she just buys the caramel drops, ready to use, but we had many wonderful times together as a family unwrapping caramels. The bars are easily a favorite treat in our house, delicious and pretty easy to pull together if you don't have unwrapping to do. Why are they called Bishop Bars? No idea, but that is what my mom calls them.

You will need:
1 ½ c. Flour
1 ½ c. Old Fashioned Oats
1 ½ c Brown Sugar
¼ tsp. Salt
½ tsp Baking Soda
1c + 2TB butter
14oz Caramels
½ c Whipping Cream
1 bag chocolate chips

Combine everything but the caramels, chocolate and cream until a crumbly type mixture forms. Press half of the mixture in a greased 9x13 pan. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes. Melt the caramels with the whipping cream over a low heat until smooth. Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the crumb mixture and then pour the caramel over the chocolate chips. Bake for another 15 minutes. Allow to cool completely before serving.

Now I am off to make some bishop bars. They seem like the perfect companion to these cool weather rolling in.
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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

WotW: Simplify Your Blogging/Social Media World, Part II

Last week we discussed how to simplify your blogging/social media world by following a simple plan. In less than an hour, you can have all your social media posts for the day scheduled and out of your hair, freeing you up to write your next post, do social media for fun or whatever else you love to do.

Today, we'll continue this simplification process, starting with Twitter. Remember, in our order of posting, Twitter posts come immediately after writing a blog post. You should write five tweets based on your post. But what should you tweet about? And how do you get five tweets from a post? There are a number of ways, but I've created a simple tool on Google Docs that should help.

The concept is simple: you break down your blog post into the following five types of tweets:

  1. Title - This tweet is just the title of your blog post, with the first letter of each word capitalized. Include the link to your post (either full, or using a shortened URL). Add a hashtag, if desired.
  2. Main Idea - Imagine someone puts a gun to your head and tells you to summarize your blog post in one quick sentence. Write that down and you have your main idea tweet. Again, add the link.
  3. Main Idea 2 - There's probably another main idea buried in the post. If not, pull a direct quote from the post.
  4. Fun Twist - Think of a playful, fun way to advertise your post – something that will entice people to read further.
  5. Teaser - This can be difficult at first, but it's a fun challenge. Write a teaser, something that will get people interested enough to click the link to learn more.
Write each of these tweets in the corresponding Tweet column in the Google Docs tool. In the Post URL field, paste the URL to your blog post. By doing this once, the URL will automatically be attached to each tweet and will appear in the Tweet with URL field. The Tweet Length field will tell you how many characters you have remaining (not including the URL). The URL isn't included in the length because Twitter will often shorten it, so it's difficult to determine the exact characters that will be used. But remember, good tweets are pretty short. 

When you're done writing your five tweets, copy and paste each Tweet with URL at a time and schedule them on Twitter using either TweetDeck or HootSuite. Space your five tweets out throughout the day, being sure to hit prime Twitter viewing times like first thing in the morning, on lunch break and right before bed.

Facebook Scheduling

Next up is scheduling a post for Facebook. If you've taken the time to write out your five tweets, you should have a bunch of creative ideas flowing, and at least one of them should stand out as a good Facebook post. Remember, the best Facebook posts:
  • are conversational
  • are short
  • include an engaging image
  • have a call to action (like, comment, share)
  • encourage people to respond
Write your Facebook post exactly like you normally do, except instead of pressing post, click on the little clock icon in the bottom-left corner of the post box. 

Next, you will be guided to select the year, month, day, hour and minute you want to schedule your post. 

When scheduling, be sure to remember the optimum time of day for posting on Facebook. While this can vary from page to page, generally around the lunch hour and dinner hour are prime times. However, you may have a different audience, so look at your Facebook insights to know for sure and schedule for optimum viewing.

After you've scheduled your post, you can view any upcoming posts in the Activity Log. Here, you can scrap the post if you've changed your mind.

You can also schedule Facebook posts through HootSuite in the same way you schedule a tweet.

Google+ Scheduling

One of the latecomers to the scheduling game is Google+. Just like Twitter, Google+ doesn't have a built-in scheduling tool, but there are a number of options available. If you run a blog through Blogger, there is now a feature to auto-post to your Google+ page. While this is a time saver, I still feel there's something special about the human touch of posting.

My favorite tool for scheduling for Google+ is a Google Chrome extension called DoShare
You can install this in the Chrome Web Store for free. DoShare works similar to other posting and scheduling tools. You can select which account you want to use to post, and whether you want to include a link or image.

You can also select with whom you want to share your post (public, your circles, specific people or circles, etc.).

Scheduling is a piece of cake, just select the date and time.
Now for a couple downsides to DoShare. First, because this is only a Chrome extension, your computer must be on and Chrome must be running when the scheduled posting time comes around. For many people who leave their computer running nearly all the time, this isn't a big deal, but it's something to be aware of. 

Secondly, you can currently only do photo posts with your personal Google+ account, not your page. This is kind of a downer, but truthfully, your big goal here should be to get your audience to read your blog post, so sharing the link is just fine. Plus, if you've created a good splash image for your post, it should automatically get slurped in to the link preview.

Again, you can also schedule Google+ posts using HootSuite.


By following this simple pattern of writing your blog post, scheduling five tweets, and scheduling Facebook and Google+ posts, you can dramatically simplify your day. You can take care of all of this in advance and not have to stress about it the rest of the day. Plus, if you incorporate it into your posting workflow, it will become a habit instead of a chore.

Monday, September 23, 2013

My Top Ten Favorite Sequels

I almost always feel a little sad when I finish a good book. The one thing that helps is knowing there is a sequel waiting for me. Sometimes the sequels are terrible and sometimes I love them. Here are some of my favorites. Linking up with The Broke and The Bookish.

Lola and the Boy Next Door- I know a lot of people didn't love this one as much as Anna and the French Kiss, but I am enamored with it. I really loved Lola's bright, fun personality and the story unfolded beautifully. I especially loved see a little bit more of Anna.

The Malloren- This is an entire sequel series to the Belgariad series. I wanted it to never end and so I loved that I had another series to turn to with most of the same characters. I loved even more that he gave us prequels in the form of Belgarath the Sorcerer and Polgara the Sorceress. This will always be some of my favorite books.

Uncommon Criminals- I love this fun, light book. What would you do if your family was full of con artists? Pull heists together of course. This entire series is just fun.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince- I will always love this book, I feel like it was the book where we finally had so many questions answered. I don't know that it is my favorite, but it set up so much!

Ender's Shadow- Less of a sequel and more of Ender's game being told from a different perspective. I loved finding out all of the little things that weren't mentioned in Ender's game.

Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance- Like his first book, this book delves deep into our medical system. I really loved learning how they have improved performance in the medical filed over the last 100 years. If you get queasy really easy, this might not be the book for you.

Forge- This book is a continuation of Chains, which focuses on the fight slaves in America for their freedom while America was fighting for its freedom in the Revolutionary War.

Fire- This is more of a companion novel to Graceling, than a sequel. One major character causes havoc in both books. I felt like reading Fire actually helped me like Graceling even more than I already did. I loved the character of Fire and her story could have stood on its own.

City of Glass- This is one of my favorite books from the Mortal Instruments series. I feel like the first two books were fine, but this is where the series really began to take off.

Clockwork Prince- I liked Clockwork Angel. It was fine, but it wasn't until I read the second book where I was completely in love with the series...and Will.

Some of my other favorite sequels that I would hate not to mention- Scarlet, Shadow Kiss and the Bloodlines series.

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Burlap Halloween Wreath

I have a house that faces the sun most of the day. I love it for growing season, but it is killer on my wreaths. I find my wreaths usually only last one holiday season on my door, because of this I usually make a new wreath for each holiday. I want wreaths that are easy to pull together, but still look fantastic on my door. This Halloween wreath will only take you about an hour to pull together and it looks darling and shabby for the Halloween season. 

You will need:
1/4 yard of both black and orange burlap
Wood Letters- BOO
Scrapbook Paper
Mod Podge
Wreath Form
Hot Glue

 Cut your burlap into strips, across the short way of your 1/4th yard, this should give you strips that are about 9 inches long. The strips don't need to have a uniform width, but aim for about an inch.
 Tie the burlap around your wreath form. Don't pull to tight or the burlap will break. Tie five or six strips of the same color right in a row until you have have a one or two inch group of that color, repeat with the next color. If you want a wreath that will withstand direct sunlight for longer, you might want to use just orange strips.
 Trace the letters onto your scrapbook paper. Cut the letter out and then Mod Podge the paper to the front of the Boo.
After your wreath is completely full of burlap strips, hot glue your Mod Podged letters to the front of it. I glued them at the bottom, but you could really put them anywhere you wanted. Finish off with a ribbon to hang from or simply just hang it on a wreath hanger on your door. 
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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Talk Like A Pirate Day Cupcakes

We are over the top in this house. We eat a completely green meal on St. Patrick's Day and heart attack our own house on Valentine's Day. My mom always had fun things for us to do on each holiday, but I get my over the top-ness from my older sister. My sister is a party planner, cake maker extraordinaire. She makes and sells cakes in South Carolina, and she is pretty much amazing. I'm not just saying that either, check out her Facebook page, Creative Cakes by Jana for proof.

One of the things I have learned from my sister is that any reason can be a reason to celebrate. Today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day. I dug the pirate costume for my 4-year-old out of the dress up box and we are going to enjoy our favorite pirate cupcakes, dreamed up by my sister, to celebrate.

I LOVE these cupcakes because they are easy to pull together even without any special cake decorating skills.

You will need:
Cupcakes, baked and iced with frosting.
Red Fruit Roll-Ups
Large Chocolate Chips
Pull and Peel Black Licorice
a candy bracelet or necklace

Cut semi circles out of fruit roll-ups for the bananas, add to small strips for the ties. Use one blue M&M for one eye and a large chocolate chips for the eye patch on the other. Break apart the candy necklace and use the pieces as an earring on each cupcake. A yellow M&M for the nose and black licorice with make an eyebrow and a mouth to finish the cupcake. These cupcakes are so easy to make that my 4-year-old loves to help make her very own pirate. Arrrr me mateys. They are delicious.
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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

WotW: Simplify Your Blogging/Social Media World

Social media is great, but do you ever feel like it takes up more and more of your time, leaving you with less time to live actual real life? If you run a blog, a business or are hip on all the latest social media sites, chances are you know exactly what I'm talking about.

It can easily become exhausting to compose a blog post, a Facebook page post, a bunch of Twitter posts, an Instagram post and a slew of pins on Pinterest. Not to mention Google+, YouTube and a slew of other sites. You want to be active on all these channels, but there's just a limited amount of time available, and this doesn't even take into account the primary posting times for each social network.

Before you despair, continue reading, because I have some guidelines that can save you some time, sanity and make your social media experience positive, and more tightly focused on what you really want to say.

The secret is scheduling. Really, it is. In my professional career, I manage multiple social media accounts for multiple organizations. And this is in addition to the numerous other web and design responsibilities I have. Without scheduling, I wouldn't have time to do anything.

Step 1: Setup Recurring Tasks
Checklists can really help you stay on task and remember what you need to do. I've talked about a number of checklists on this site before, like Any.Do, TeuxDeux and Daily ToDo, but when it comes to managing social media, my app/site of choice is Wunderlist. While Wunderlist is similar to other to-do apps, what sets it apart is the ability to setup recurring tasks.

Here's how:
  1. Create a free account with Wunderlist (either online or through their apps for iOS or Android)
  2. Add a list and Title it Social Media.
  3. In the "Add an item in..." field, type your recurring task.
  4. Click on the calendar icon to the right to add a due date (pick the first time you want this to happen, if it is a recurring task)
  5. Beneath the calendar, click the drop-down menu that says Never Repeat and select Repeat Every Day.
  6. Add a Reminder on the reminder tab, if you want to be reminded at a specific time each day.
  7. Repeat Steps 3-6 for each recurring task for each social network you are on.
While I recommend posting daily, I understand it's just not feasible sometimes. If you have a more customized posting schedule (like every three days), you will need to set these up on the mobile app, which has more features than the site.

Once your tasks are setup, go to the Today option on Wunderlist. Bookmark this for daily reference. Now, each day, a fresh list will appear with all your tasks. Check them as you complete them. The next day, they will all return again. Slick.

Step 2: Stick to the Posting Plan
I have found recurring tasks really help me stay on task and be accountable. Another item of importance here is the order in which your tasks should be done. Yes, there is a method to the madness here. 
  1. Start by writing a blog post. 
  2. Immediately after you finish writing your blog post, compose five tweets related to that post. Yes, five. This will provide you with enough tweets to use throughout the day.
  3. Select your best message and tailor it for Facebook. Yes, write a unique Facebook post. Do NOT autopost your blog post on Facebook. It's super boring, gets delivered to an incredibly small fraction of your fans and most likely won't be read or interacted with. I highly recommend writing a post and adding a picture related to the post.
  4. Modify your Facebook post for inclusion on Google+. Remember, Google+ posts with pictures and more detailed posts do better than the sometimes flimsy nature of Facebook posts. If you use Blogger, and linked your Google+ account, your posts are auto-posted to Google+. Still, I think there's value in the human touch of a post.
  5. Post an Instagram photo. This could be a picture of you creating whatever it is you blogged about, or could be a picture you take that somehow relates to your blog post. Then again, it could be a picture about anything. Instagram is a bit unique in that posts don't always have to tie back to your blog or site. Instagram is valuable because it acts like a window to you as a person.
  6. Get on Pinterest and pin 5 things. They don't have to be related to your blog post even, but pin 5 things so you keep active. A good tip for pinning though is to consider your blog post topic and find five pins related to that.
With a bit of practice, you will be able to quickly hammer out all these items (with the exception of writing the actual blog post) in less than an hour. This frees up the rest of your day for, well, whatever else you enjoy doing. 

But wait! You don't want to just post all at once on all your accounts. There are prime posting times for each social network and you want to maximize your blog post's reach and exposure throughout the day. This is where the magic of scheduling posts comes in handy. You still follow the posting plan, but instead of instantly posting, you schedule the posts.

Step 3: Scheduling for Twitter
Many bloggers already utilize the scheduling features for blog posts. If you don't, check it out. This allows you to write posts when the writing bug hits, rather than last minute. You can also schedule posts for Twitter. There are a number of posts out there that can help you do this, but I recommend TweetDeck and HootSuite.

TweetDeck is my favorite because of its slick interface. You can either download the software or use the web-based version (which I prefer).
  1. Click on the blue pen and paper icon in the top-left corner.
  2. In the compose box that appears, write your tweet. A character countdown will guide you.
  3. Instead of instantly posting (I know, resist that temptation), click on the Schedule Tweet option and select both a date and time for your tweet.
  4. Repeat for each of your five tweets. Be sure to space them out. Every 2-3 hours is a good time, but also remember peak times: first thing in the morning, around lunch break and at night, before bed. Be sure to hit those key times.
The one disadvantage to TweetDeck is you cannot schedule posts with pictures uploaded. If you want to do that, you will need to use HootSuite. 

I've covered HootSuite before, so I won't go into much detail here, but they have a similar scheduling feature to TweetDeck.

A feature they recently added though is called Autoscheduling. If you hate trying to figure out when to tweet, let HootSuite do the work for you. They claim to schedule your tweets for the optimal viewing times. In my experience they've done a pretty good job.

Next week, I will cover an easy way to plan your five tweets, along with a tool to do it. I will also explore scheduling Facebook and Google+ posts. Stay tuned.

Monday, September 16, 2013

My Top Ten Books to Read

I always have a long list of books I want to read. Between my list of holds at the library and my book buying problem, I often get stacks of books waiting to be read. Here are some of the ones I am looking forward to in the next little while. Linking up with The Broke and the Bookish.

Allegiant by Veronica Roth- Who is NOT waiting for the conclusion of this trilogy?
The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson- This last book in The Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy just came out at the end of August. I can't wait to find out what happens to some of my favorite characters of all time. If my hold takes much longer to come in at the library, I'm just going to buy it.
The Retribution of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin- When the publication date of this book was pushed back to 2014, I might have been a little upset. I have been looking forward to this book for awhile. The Mara Dyer is the perfect mix of YA and horror. I can't wait to read this book, even if I have to wait longer for it.
The Elite by Kiera Cass- I am a little behind with this book. I have such a hard time reading the second book in a trilogy before the last book is out. I always have such a hard time waiting that I keep putting reading the second book off. I really liked the first book, so I am hoping to like this one too.
The Runaway King by Jennifer A. Nielsen- I bought this book when it first came out this year and I just haven't made time for it yet. This book is the second in the Ascendance Trilogy, the first being The False Prince, which I really enjoyed.
Entwined by Heather Dixon- This is also a purchased and not yet read book. Sometimes I get so distracted by my stack from the library, that I forget to read what I have. This one was recommended as a great stand alone.
The Fiery Heart by Richelle Mead- The fourth book in the Bloodlines series will be released in November and I can't wait. Richelle Mead sucks me in for book after book and I am sure this one will be no different.
I am Number Four by Pittacus Lore- My husband has really enjoyed this series and I keep promising to read it.
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams- This is a series that has been on my to read list for years. I planning on finally getting around to it this fall!
The Prisoner of Cell 25 (Michael Vey)- Richard Paul Evans- This is another one that has been recommended to me from all over the place. I am interested to see if it lives up to the hype.
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Witch Hat Halloween Decoration

My 4-year-old loves Halloween. She talks about it all year long and then can't sleep the night before. She would take Halloween over Christmas any day of the week and was so disappointed to find that we had hardly any Halloween decorations. So last year we set out to make sure this year we had tons. Here is the darling Witch Hat she requested. She wanted a witch hat with leaves on it, this is what I came up with. 
You will need: 
a witch hat, any size, mine is a smaller hat
fake leaves and pumpkins, mine are also smaller
fake spiders
hot glue
  Tie a ribbon around the base of the hat. You can heat seal or fray check the ends of the ribbon if you are worried about fraying.
 Using hot glue, add the leaves, raffia and gourds. This is kind of a trial and error part to see what looks good. In the end, for me, it worked best to glue each individual leaf down. Working with each individual piece wasn't fast, but I liked the look better in the end.
Add a cute little spider to the top of your hat to finish it off. I love this darling beaded spiders I found, but a plastic spider would work just as well. 

What about you? Have you pulled out your Halloween decorations yet?
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Pretty Darn Funny- Fitness Challenge and a Giveaway!

Something I loved about my husband when we met? He hated exercise as much as I do. Seriously there is pretty much nothing in the world I loathe more than putting on spandex and running. A little over a year ago, my husband found an exercise routine he loves and has since abandoned me to sitting on the couch by myself. Now don't get me wrong. I exercise. I run and I curse every second in my head. I finally found something that describes how I feel in Pretty Darn Funny Season 2, episode 5. Check it out for a good laugh. Even if you love to exercise

To celebrate this week's episode of Pretty Darn Funny, Deseret Book has generously offered to give one Housewife Eclectic reader a copy of The Power of Starting Something Stupid, Richie Norton. Enter on the Rafflecopter below. 

What if the smartest people in the world understand something that the rest of us don't? (They do.) What if they know that in order to achieve success, they will sometimes have to do things that others may initially perceive as stupid? The fact of the matter is that the smartest people in the world don't run from stupid, they lean into it (in a smart way).
In The Power of Starting Something Stupid, Richie Norton redefines stupid as we know it, demonstrating that life-changing ideas are often tragically mislabeled stupid. What if the key to success, creativity, and fulfillment in your life lies in the potential of those stupid ideas?
Rafflecopter giveaway

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