Saturday, November 12, 2016

A book for the foodie who just loves food!

My kids and I have been poring over a very special book that came in the mail this week.  The title is Food Anatomy: The Curious Parts and Pieces of Our Edible World by Julia Rothman.  I was the first person to get a peek at it and I immediately called to my kids.  I knew they would be fascinated by all the food tidbits and interesting facts this book held.  And indeed they were!  They love it.  My
oldest daughter has come to me multiple times this week asking to read the book while she was enjoying her breakfast or lunch.

So, why do we all love it so much?

First, because it's different.  It has pictures that are fun to look at and help me imagine things that I've known about, but have never seen.  The author includes information about such a wide range of topics--everything from stoves over time to distillation and the fortune cookie!

Secondly, because it won't be what you expect.  This book is about all the things that make our food interesting.  It will likely make you want to try some new spices, desserts, and even cheeses!  If you read this whole book, you will feel much more educated about food and what people eat around the world.

Best of all, it is an easy read!  So, if you just want to get off the computer or stop watching television, this book will engage your mind and your palate!  And if you're looking for a gift for someone who loves food, this would be a fun surprise!

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book from Storey books.  I've written this review because I wanted to--and because my family loves this book and would give this book a huge five thumbs up!

Friday, November 11, 2016

Cast-iron Cooking

I've been cooking with a large cast iron skillet for years.  I love it.  I love that I can scrub the bottom of the pan and not stress about it!  But, I also love the natural way that my family can get some iron into their diet by my cooking with this pan.  My family has low-iron levels so this matters to me.

Recently, I received a new cookbook titled aptly, Cast-Iron Cooking.  In the beginning, the author explains why one would cook with cast-iron.  The author's explanation was more information than I
was aware of!  I had never considered how it conducts heat--though I knew from experience and cooking with my pan for fifteen years.  The next few pages of the book explain how to season and take care of cast iron pans.  The explanations were simple and make it sound very easy to keep a pan seasoned--which it is.

Then, the cookbook goes on to include recipes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  The picture on the Table of Contents page is actually of raw steaks on a skillet--which is one of our favorite things to make with our cast iron pan.  The first recipe in the breakfast section is for a Dutch Baby with a blueberry sauce.  The blueberry sauce takes a long--- time to cook, so be sure to start it first and then take a look at the dutch baby directions.  The recipe recommends making the sauce while the dutch baby is baking, but I'd recommend starting with the sauce instead.  Next, I tried the Grilled Cheese.  The directions are a little unusual.  You spread the bread with a light layer of mayonaise and cook your grilled cheese.  I will say it was one of the most evenly browned grilled cheese sandwiches I've every made, but it got mixed reviews in my family.  I liked it, but didn't love it, my son loved it, and one of my daughters didn't like it.  We were evenly split.  Lastly, I liked the fried chicken recipe.  This is the method I've used for making fried chicken for several years and it works quite well.  I would take the cayenne pepper out of the recipe, but that's because my kids aren't crazy about that spice.

Each recipe includes an appealing photo which definitely made me want to go cook.  Photographs can make such a difference in a cookbook!  They can make recipes appealing--or unappealing.
The formatting and writing of the recipes made them easy to follow and there's enough room around the recipes to write changes on the pages if you're one of those kinds of cooks (like me) who writes down modifications to directions and ingredients according to your family's tastes.

This cookbook is definitely a helpful one if you're wanting to explore cooking more in a cast-iron pan. The recipes can be made in another type of skillet as well--they don't require a cast iron pan, but the author did pick out some that are particularly good in a cast iron pan because it can go in an oven.  
My middle daughter has already made the Dutch Baby recipe twice!

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this cookbook from Storey Books.  These opinions are my own and this review is one that I have chosen to write.



Thursday, November 10, 2016

Fiber and Knitting

Two new crafting books are sitting in front of me that I want to quickly share about...

The first is titled Cable Left, Cable Right by Judith Durant.  I have to admit that I am a basic knit and purl knitter so the charts in this book are beyond my skill.  So I turned to a friend at 4H this week who does more advanced knitting than me and asked her opinion.  She looked the book over and was very positive about what she saw in it.  Her praise fell on the charts for each of the cables.  She thought they were very helpful and easy to follow.  The pictures and descriptions also made sense to her.  So, if knitting cables is something you enjoy, I'd definitely check this new book out!

The second book in front of me is a beautiful book about yarn for spinners.
Yarn-i-tec-ture.  I don't weave, spin, or dye wool, but I can appreciate the work that goes into it.  A few months ago, a 16 year old girl gave a presentation to the 4H group we visited about her wool, spinning, and the sheep she was getting to raise.  I loved hearing about what
she had learned in order to spin the world into yarn that she could work with.  This book would be perfect for her.  It is the next step.  This book is for someone who can spin and knit but is interested in improving their skills.   There are tons of great pictures showing the differences in dying, types of spinning, grist (the density of a yarn and how heavy a particular length of yarn is), plying (and even the mistakes that come up), tips on how to knit with yarn you've spun, and even patterns using the yarn.  It's a great all-in-one book for someone who's really pursuing this hobby!

I admire people who enjoy knitting and spinning and have mastered these skills.  I can see how both these books would be helpful and encouraging to someone loves cabling and spinning wool into yarn.  Storey's books are always beautiful, well formatted and easy to read.  And these two books are just that!

Please note that I received complimentary copies of these books from Storey Publishing, but I have chosen to write this review with my own opinions in it.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Saving on a Tablet Case

For my birthday, my husband gave me an ipad mini.  I tried to go cheap at first--buying a $13 case for it.  But, it was cracked within two months.  I rarely took it out of our house never dropped it and slid it into a protective bag when it did!  Yet it still cracked at some point while my oldest daughter (who is a super careful girl) had it in her possession.  So, I needed a new case.

I was determined to get a more protective case when I headed to Target.  One of the tough things about shopping online for items is that you can't feel and really see how strong the material is that something is made out of.  At Target, I could see up close what I was buying.  I settled on a great Targus case that I've loved. Target will price match Amazon if an item is sold directly from Amazon, so that is helpful, too.  The new case I bought has been wonderful and very protective.  I don't worry anymore.

This past week was my oldest daughter's birthday and we decided to get her a tablet.  We looked around and decided on an Air Pad 2, 32 gb.  We've had better luck with Macs over PCs the past ten years.  Less viruses, more reliable, longer lifespans.  The same Samsung tablet with 32 gb memory cost only $20 less than the Air Pad 2 when I found it on sale.  We thought about the ipad mini, but it has a smaller screen.  She uses it for one of her high school textbooks.  The touchscreen on my ipad mini worked better than the laptops (which didn't have a touch screen) other students used worked with the text.

But, getting a tablet doesn't just involve the tablet.  We needed to get a screen protector, keyboard, and case.  What should we get?  Everything at Best Buy seemed so expensive and non-fun for a teenage girl!  So, I headed home and got on Amazon's site.

I knew that cases with a keyboard attached would cost about $150.  My husband wanted her to have a keyboard though.  So, I opted for a Speck case for $25, a screen protector for $8 and an Anker keyboard for $14.  It was the right combination for her needs.  Because the keyboard isn't attached she can turn the tablet vertically when she wants to and still use the keyboard or choose to use it horizontally.  We saved a lot of money going this route and she has a fun colored case (purple)!


Saturday, September 24, 2016

Cards for All Occasions

Near my desk is a drawer of cards.  There are random envelopes and cards in it, but it's often hard to find what I'm looking for!

This week I began wondering if perhaps this is a case of less being more.  I have a "box" of cards on my desk that I love.  It's a collection of 30 cards that are blank inside, waiting to be colored on the outside.  There are cards inside for birthdays, a wedding card, Father's Day, Mother's Day, Congratulations, Thank Yous.  I like the coloring designs on these cards because they aren't too hard to color--some coloring books seem to have tiny, tiny spaces that need to be colored in!  What's even more fun is that the envelopes also have fun decorative borders on them to color in.  My tween daughters enjoyed the one I gave them to color for a friend's wedding gift.

I love that they are altogether and that I can easily store them in my desk drawer--without the mess that my other drawer contains.  For now, I think I'm just going to pretend it isn't there and use these cards when I need one!  Maybe next week, I'll go through that drawer and organize it when I have time and the energy to do it!

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of these cards for review from Storey Books.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Teaching Kids About Money

There are many, many books about teaching kids about money.  Thick books.  Overwhelming books.  It is something that is on my mind.

I was listening to someone talk of someone they knew who is buying a house.  The buyer has spoken of the house and furniture purchases saying, "Now, I feel like a real adult."  Unfortunately, this is a situation like many where the expenses will outweigh the income.  Last night, I spoke with a community college professor who talked of a college student who dropped a class and then didn't even take the final for one of the classes.  This meant that the student lost their aid and is now stuck repaying it sooner than expected.  She also mentioned that a student she knew had completed more than a year of community college, but then started back at square one when transferring to a 4 year school because she wanted the experience of it.

How can I raise my children so that they don't spend more than they can?  How can I raise them to understand how much things cost?  How can I raise them to make wise decisions about college?  I don't think there's an easy answer to these questions.  And I know that every parent raises their children differently--our children also all have different personalities!

For me, my approach has been to talk with my kids openly about finances.  I shared some stories the other day about Autumn's toddler years and our finances then that she didn't remember.  I shared with her about how God provided clothing for her first two years of life through the thrift store I volunteered at.  I shared with my middle daughter this week that it was wiser for us not to go to Target so that we wouldn't be tempted to spend money on things that we shouldn't.  We have to stay within our budget.  It's easier when one doesn't tempt one's self.

Today, as we get ready to go on a field trip, four sack lunches were packed instead planning to eat out.  Money saved to be spent on something else needed.

I've come to conclude that living within one's budget is done with a million little decisions-- not just a few big ones (though those have a big impact!).

What have you done that you've seen have an impact on your children in regard to them make wise financial decisions?

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Thoughts on Vacationing and Money

We are on vacation.

I have marveled at all of the families traveling with young children under five.  They seem to be effortlessly going with the flow.  They look very calm.  In the hotel where we stayed, there were several little ones.  Several threw fits and several did not.  We moved rooms early in our stay because a baby screaming next door wouldn't stop.  Please know--I love children very much, but my husband couldn't sleep.  Unfortunately, hotels have thin walls.  Still, I marveled at the parents' willingness and desire to travel with little ones.

My husband and I didn't travel a lot when our kids were little.  We took our oldest when she was 3 months old to a wedding out of town for a very close friend.  I'm so thankful we did, but that was a challenging trip.  When my middle daughter was 1 year old, we tried to go to a cottage, but she woke 8 times in one night demanding to nurse.  Mom--Me-- was a zombie the next day and we turned around, drove home, and I began to wean her.  We didn't try to go on a vacation again until three years later, with a third child aboard.

Our first vacation to Maine was five years ago when my youngest was three years old.  It was interesting to think back this week on what that was like.  It was a good trip with a long, ten hour road trip attached to it on both ends.  Each year it has gotten easier as my kids have been able to entertain themselves more with books and each other as company.  This year was the easiest so far and I was so thankful!  There were fewer "When are we going to be there?" questions from the back seats than previous years.

I enjoy the time on vacation with my kids very much.  We laugh and spend time together.  We go on lots of "field trips".  My husband and I often talk about how to "do vacation better".  Part of this is because neither of our families really took vacations.

My family went to vineyards that my dad wanted to go to.  In the back seat of the car, sat my brother and I silently reading, not complaining, as we drove up and down the California and Oregon coasts.  We didn't go visit sites that kids would enjoy.  The part I enjoyed was eating out and staying in motels.

My husband's family didn't take many vacations either.  So, we have had a lot to learn as a couple. But, we're learning.

Here are a few of the things I've learned...

1.  We try to eat one meal (or two) out a day.  Our stomachs are used to eating food at home and do better if we follow this pattern.  It's also much easier on the finances.  Breakfast is a surprisingly expensive meal to eat out in a restauarant.  Bagels for my family (without drinks) cost about $25 and a sit down breakfast $50-$60.  When we stay in hotels, we stay where they have a contintental breakfast which saves us some money.  But, when we are in a rental house, we try to eat breakfast at home.

2.  I make a plan ahead of time for meals and activities.  It isn't a rigid plan.  But, typically, our phones and computers don't get a lot of cell coverage in rural areas, so I write down addresses for our GPS and do research ahead of time to find things to do.  I pick a variety of things that my husband and kids enjoy.  Different hikes, museums (I try to look and see if there are any free hours), restaurants for the meals I think we'll eat out, and any special sites I think would be fun to visit.

3.  I have forms.  Last week, I had a volunteer interview for 4h and I had to answer several questions about organization.  My answer to one question that I use a lot of forms.  I use forms for everything.  I use a form for the kids to pack their clothes (which worked well except that I need to add on a space for a belt!).  I use a form for packing kitchen supplies that won't be at the house we're staying in.  I use a form for general family packing.  My forms have made packing so much easier for my family.  It's still a ton of work to get ready for vacation, but I just go item by item down the list until everything is packed.

4.  My kids have separate, color-coded LL Bean bags with wheels.  This has been a huge help!  We just bought a new one for my husband yesterday--in a different color, because he had one without wheels and we needed his bag to be our hotel traveling bag for the two days we stay in hotels before we get to the house we rent for a week.

5.  I take coffee and a grinder and a few knives.  I can do without most of my kitchen for a week, but the knives never work when we rent someone else's home and my coffee from home is one of the few things I do in the morning for me.

6.  We got a box for the top of our van this year.  Several of our friends had one and my husband thought it would be wise to get one this year.  It hadn't occurred to me, but it has been such a help.  Less stuff under the kids feet, and enough room to breathe inside our car.  It was worth the investment.  Our bag for the first two nights was inside the car so we didn't have to get into the box until we reached our destination.

7.  Budgeting...  I think that budgeting for vacation expenses is hard outside of lodging and travel.  Being super concerned about finances can take away the joy from doing the things we're doing.  One of the things I've really had to get myself used to is spending money on doing things.  I know that sounds weird probably, but it just wasn't something that came naturally to me.  I choose free concerts over expensive tickets.  I choose free parks over ones that have a fee.  But, sometimes the ones with a fee are so much more worth a visit.  I'm learning.

8.  At most meals out, my family drinks water.  We don't order juice or milk unless it's included in kids' meals.  My husband does order a draft beer once in a while.  I realized yesterday why.  I had always thought it was just about the cost--5 drinks equates to an extra $10-$15 on the tab for a meal.  But, I discovered a second reason yesterday.  When I sit down to a meal, I talk to each of the kids first and decide what they're going to eat before I decide for myself.  I do this for two reasons--1) to help them make decisions and know what they're going to tell the waitress and 2) to help me figure out what to order as a back up in case they don't like what they order.  When you add juice onto the discussion, things get noticeably longer and more complicated.  For me, simpler is better and less stressful.  My children know how much I try to be less stressed and for them this something desireable.  In my house, the life is good saying "keep it simple" is important and helpful.  I just explained this to one of my children who ordered juice twice yesterday and she understood and was fine with that.  She also understood once I explained that a container of juice cost the same as the $3 that her glass of juice cost at dinner last night.

9.  We don't plan on going all day.  I know many high energy families that are able to go all day.  My family can't.  We get up in the morning and get out the door about 9 or 10 am, but we'll be home between 4 and 7 pm.

10.  I save where I can so I can feel comfortable spending where we need to.  Every year, I head to Ollie's to pick up cheap workbooks for the kids to do in the car and to Target for car snacks before we head on a trip.  It's so much cheaper than buying something on the road.  We also brought water bottles for the kids this year and even though they each cost $8, the savings in buying water bottles has been both financial and spatial.  We haven't had to buy any water bottles from the grocery stores --I've spent up to $12 in the past on them.  We also haven't had to store extra water bottles and take up trash space with them.  Many of the homes we've rented don't have recycling, so the disposable bottles just filled up the trash when they were emptied.  It's easier to have less trash.

11.  Having something to do in the hotel room for the kids was something that accidentally happened this year and is something I'm going to remember.  The girls wanted a new lego set.  I had found a ninjago brickmaster set at Ollie's for $8 instead of the $27 that Amazon charged.  The girls split the cost with me and they were all occupied all evening (1-2 hours after dinner) in the hotel after we went to the pool.  The money spent on the legos was well spent.  We've found that tv in the hotel rooms is tricky.  One year we watched tennis, which was safe.  The first night this vacation, I watched NFL football with my kids and explained the game to them.  Sports are pretty safe, but outside of that, it's been tough to find things to watch.

12.  I bring food from home.  Food is cheaper where we live because of Aldi.  I buy the refrigerated items where we stay, but I bring the basics with us.  I estimate that it easily saves us about $100.  We stay near a larger grocery store, but I know that in many touristy areas, the independent grocery stores are far more expensive.

13.  Having a GPS is very helpful.  We like having one independent of our phones.  We do have car phone chargers, but the GPS has the ability to look up places and addresses when it's up to date.  Unfortunately, our GPS is on its last legs with this trip and will need to be replaced this year, but it's had a good long life--about 7 years.  My husband's phone does have a GPS, but isn't able to look up places while we're on the road.

I guess that's it for now.   I know we still have more to learn about how to take vacations, but they go much more smoothly than they did five years ago when we took our first weeklong vacation to Maine and I'm very thankful!