Tuesday, November 6, 2012

November Charity of the Month: The Laurel Foundation

What is this charity?
The Laurel Foundation provides educational and support programs to children affected by HIV/AIDS.  Many of their programs are year round such as the wilderness camp programs, mentorship programs, workshops, and collaborations with other AIDS organizations.

What is their mission?
To create a safe and trusting atmosphere where children and their families can improve their quality of life, being near medical services and learning how to navigate their illness.  Families can attend any of the workshops and children can work with mentors or participate in summer camps.  As this disease often isolates people, especially children, they work on helping them build their self-confidence.  The ultimate goal is to make children forget about their illness and enjoy life.

How you can help:
There are many ways you can help this charity.  First, is by volunteering in you live in the Pasadena, CA area.  They have areas open for camp counselors, mentors or as a medical staff member.  You can also participate in one of their fundraising events.  In just a few days on November 5, they are sponsoring the 16th annual Laurel Foundation Golf Tournament or you could participate in the 2013 LA Marathon on March 17th.  But for those of us on the East Coast, the Foundation would not be possible without donations.  You can make a tax-deductible donation through Paypal.  

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Thanks for the Needed Time!

As many people know the East Coast got rocked by Hurricane Sandy and a Nor'easter at the same time.  I heard so many different stories over the course of the last few days, but I think my favorite is someone posting on Facebook that Virginia is not only for lovers, but also for extreme weather lovers as one side of the state had a hurricane and the other a snow storm!  We went from having 80 degree weather to 40 degree weather in 3 days and a chance for snow showers today!  Just crazy!

I also got some unexpected time off from work.  All public school systems were closed in our area on both Monday and Tuesday.  So what's a girl to do?  Get in some much needed craft time, of course!  I could have done some stuff for work, but seeing as how I just signed up to do a craft show (my first!), I needed to get some stuff done.  My church is having a show in November and I have thought about doing it for awhile, but I did not get anything done for it yet.  Just a small issue...

So I worked on several projects that did not require electricity just in case it went out.

I made coasters similar to these:

And yarn wrapped cardboard letters like the ones below:

 I also have a holiday yarn wreath in the works too.

Pictures soon!

(Picture credits: via pinterest)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Leftover Puzzle: Macaroni

I came home from work and was beat.  I did not have that much food wise and needed something quick, because hunger was calling big time.  So I had to scrounge around for ingredients.  This leftover puzzle may seem like child's play, but my brain at the time felt like it was climbing an uphill battle.

For this leftover puzzle I had:
  • Ditalini pasta
  • ham
  • mozzarella cheese
  • yellow grape tomatoes
I boiled the pasta according to package directions.  Drained and then put it back in the pot.  While this was cooking, I sauteed the ham and tomatoes.  Then I added that to the pot after I drained the pasta.  I added the cheese and let it melt.  I had never used this type of pasta before and I am really glad I tried it.  Smaller pasta equals not as heavy. 

It was super quick and easy and just what I needed at the time. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Chicken in a Creamy Mustard Sauce

The inspiration for this dish is from Dinner: A Love Story.  I use Dijon mustard in so many of my dishes, so when I saw this dish, I knew I had to try it.  As usual though, I also had to make some changes to make it my own.

1 1/3 pounds chicken thighs, salted and peppered
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup chopped grape tomatoes, or to taste
8 ounces (about 1 1/2 cups) thawed frozen artichokes canned artichokes (drained) or to taste
zest from 1 lemon (about 1/2 teaspoon)
salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/4 – 1/3 cup cream
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
chopped parsley or thyme

In a large skillet, brown chicken pieces in olive oil over medium-high heat, in batches if necessary, about 2-3 minutes a side. (They do not have to cook through.) Remove, decrease heat to medium, and add onion.

Cook a minute or two, scraping brown bits leftover from chicken. Add tomatoes, artichokes, lemon zest, salt and pepper. Cook another 2-3 minutes.

Nestle chicken thighs in the vegetables then add wine and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover.

Cook another 8 to 10 minutes.

While it’s simmering, whisk together cream and mustard. Remove skillet from heat and stir in creamy mustard mixture.

Garnish with parsley or thyme. Serve with rice.

What I Did
I did not use a pound and 1/3 of chicken.  It was 2 chicken thighs.   I also hardly ever use onions, because I am highly sensitive to cutting them.  Seriously, it's bad.  I do not even have to be the one cutting them and I have tears rolling down my face.  So usually I use dehydrated onions.  However, with certain recipes I feel the dish would be terribly lacking in flavor if I did not use them.  I recently had used onion in another dish, so decided to use the rest of what was leftover for this one.  The purple skinned onion gave some nice color to the dish, as well.

I did not have grape tomatoes either, so I chopped up regular tomatoes.  I also used dried parsley, had no lemon, and I did not serve it with rice as I liked the idea of just the chicken and the sauce in a more simple style.  However, I also made a vegetable side with zucchini and tomatoes.

This dish is amazing!  Two of my favorite ingredients combined - chicken and Dijon mustard.  So creamy, so rich.  I feel that the heavy cream balances out the Dijon in just the right way, so it is not overpowering.  The only thing I found wrong was that I almost hated that it was warmer out, because this is the perfect dish to serve on a cold day.  The leftover sauce also tasted great mixed with my vegetable side dish too. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tangerine by Edward Bloor

Goodreads summary: Tangerine, Florida—once known for its citrus groves—is now an uninhabitable quagmire of muck fires and school-swallowing sinkholes. Still, twelve-year-old Paul sees the move as a way to start anew, maybe even make a name for himself in middle school soccer—despite his father’s obsession with his high-school-age brother Erik’s future in football. Paul is visually impaired (without his Coke bottle glasses), but it’s everyone else who seems to be blind to Erik’s dangerous nature. Written as a series of Paul’s journal entries, Tangerine is a gut-wrenching coming-of-age novel about truth, memory, culture, courage, social consciousness, classism, the environment . . . and soccer. Paul is a character well worth cheering for. Underdogs of the world, unite!

My review:  First, let me point out that this book is my school's book club October pick.  At first, I thought this might be one of those books I would just kind of get through, but I was in for a surprise.  Bloor pacts a punch in this relatively short book at 294 pages.  Within its pages are sibling rivalry, a child with disabilities, parental guilt, family secrets, being the new kid, making new friends, bullying, separation of economic classes, racism, and murder.  As I was trying to remember all the themes carried out in this book, I read another review that stated something about this book had to be published as a YA novel, because it had a teenage protagonist, but that is where the genre ends concerning this book.  It's definitely true.  There are very adult themes presented here, but Bloor is able to write about them in such a way that teenagers can handle. 

I knew immediately that something was different about the main character, Paul Fisher.  He's legally blind, but he seems more mature than most adults do.  He makes great observations, despite everyone thinking he can't see great.  is so different from the rest of his family.  His family moves from Texas to Florida, basically so that older brother Erik can have a better chance of getting a college football scholarship. 

I absolutely hate how this family treats Paul.  It is as if Paul hardly exists while Erik is the true golden boy.  Paul is so different from the rest of his family.  His parents miss the most obvious things and obsess about the smallest.  It really bugged me, but there is a reason for it all.  I purposely missed our book club meeting because I hadn't finished the book yet and several people told me there was a surprise ending.  I am glad I read about it on my own rather than having it be spoiled.  

After moving to Florida and beginning at Lake Windsor Middle, a freak act of nature in the form of a sinkhole, causes Paul to switch schools attending Tangerine Middle.  This school is the older, dirtier middle school that now handles the poorer section of town.  Paul loves it here.  He meets the right people and gets in good with the soccer team.  He still learns a lot about how his new friends differ from the life his parents have and keep working for.  But he gets it.  Paul understands that the kids at Tangerine have to work for everything they have and he would rather be with them. 

This is definitely another coming-of-age story, but with a terrible twist at its close.  It did not grab me until several hours later and I was still thinking about how it effected all of the characters.  Another great book club read!

I give it 4 stars.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

My Little Experiment

I realized today it has been almost a month since I first wrote about my little dating experiment.  So I am long overdue with an update.  I guess the best way to put it is that has been a little bit of a whirlwind.

It has been a very positive experience.  To date, I have been speed dating twice and I met one guy at both events and went on date(s) with both.  One of them I have seen a few times since we first met. The second event I went to was for Catholics, which I thought was great because I did not have to worry about whether or not I would match up with someone based on religion.  This one differed in that I had 5 minute rotations, instead of 3.  There was still a large age range, but I did feel there were more people with a more professional attitude at this one, whether than a some people who just went to have a good time on a Saturday night.  That made a huge difference and I liked it better. 

I was skeptical at trying speed dating at first, but I am really happy that I chose to do this.  I have met all kinds of people that I would not have met otherwise.  I have also learned a bit more about what I am really looking for too.

Honestly, I am not sure how much more I am going to talk about this on the blog.  I wanted to talk about it so that if someone else out there was on the fence about giving speed dating a try, they could hear about an experience and decide for themselves.  Luckily, I had two very positive experiences, but the rest of it goes a little too far into a part of my life I am not so willing to share.  The best I can say is to stay tuned and I will see how it goes. 
(Picture credits: VerĂ³nica Figueiredo via weheartit.com)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Sometimes There Are No Right Words

Today is the ninth year I have been without my mom.  I have tried for two days to write this post and the words...well...sometimes there are not words to describe how you feel. 

I will say that this is the first time in nine years that I have not relived almost every moment of that day or even the events leading up to it.  It could be that I have finally made peace with it or I am just blocking it out for other reasons; it is hard to say.  As I have learned over the years, I will feel what I feel at any given moment, but it just as quickly can switch and change to something else.  I will think I have found closure only to realize I was far from it.  So today, I just feel the quiet, I feel the air; it just is what it is.

I know that if my mom were able to communicate somehow she would have said I dwelled too long on losing her.  She would have wanted to see me move on quicker, live my life.  I remember her so clearly telling me, do not let this stop you.  But I have learned that too - you will move on and go when you are ready.  There is no time table.

While I never let it completely stop me, I did a lot of climbing.  I took so many small steps, baby steps at times, but each one kept leading me back.  Lately the steps are bigger or they're happening faster, still leading me back.  Back to a path where I can let go.  

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Scorch Trials by James Dashner

Goodreads summary: Solving the Maze was supposed to be the end. No more puzzles. No more variables. And no more running. Thomas was sure that escape meant he and the Gladers would get their lives back. But no one really knew what sort of life they were going back to.  The Gladers are far from finished with running. Instead of freedom, they find themselves faced with another trial. They must cross the Scorch, the most burned-out section of the world, and arrive at a safe haven in two weeks. And WICKED has made sure to adjust the variables and stack the odds against them.

Thomas can only wonder—does he hold the secret of freedom somewhere in his mind? Or will he forever be at the mercy of WICKED?

My review:  I had a hard time getting through the first book in this series and was not sure about reading this second book, but I was intrigued with who WICKED is and how Thomas and Teresa knew each other before the maze.  As I have said before, I really like trying to figure out a puzzle and this was a dandy one.  

So this was my mindset going into this book.  The Maze Runner didn't really kick into high gear for me until Teresa showed up in the story.  So what happens in The Scorch Trials?  She disappears at the very beginning and then turns back up with about a quarter of the book to go, telling Thomas that she has betrayed him, has a "connection" with someone else, and it looks like she has pretty much gone pyscho; leaving Thomas and the audience with a big "huh, what just happened moment?" 

The rest of the book has the boys traveling through this intense desert trying not to get killed, but befalling disasters one bloodier than the next, leaving me feeling that Dashner's only desire is to write about blood, death, and gore; which may be the case if his target audience is teenage boys.  

Overall, I feel that the book ended with more questions than answers and I do not have enough enthusiasm for this book to find out the answers.  I did ask a friend about the third book and if it was even worth trying to figure out this unsolvable puzzle and I did not like how the third book goes, I do not want to ruin it for anyone who may like this series better than I have, but some serious confusing things happen and as it turns out none of my questions ever get answered.  So I have chosen to end my journey here.

I give this book 2 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

October Charity of the Month: Milk + Bookies

What is this charity?
Founded in 2004, Milk + Bookies is an organization that helps children across the nation get books.  There are many children who do not have books of their own, but through this program, others - especially children, can donate books.  The goal here is to select, purchase and inscribe books which are then donated to those who do not have access to books of their own.

What is their mission?
Books take children to new worlds, letting them escape on adventures, to the past, to the future, to fairy tale lands, and under the sea.  This organization wants to foster imaginations and help children read.  Their mission is two-fold: promoting literacy and service.  Giving books to others help students read better, but by teaching students to give, they feel important, self-confident and grow the desire to give again and again.

Why should you donate?
As of August 2012, Milk + Bookies has been able to donate 33,125 books.  That's an awesome amount!  But think about it in these terms, it's not 33,125 books.  It's 33,125 kids - kids who got a chance to find their favorite book.  33,125 chances to tell someone else about it.  33,125 chances to be inspired.  Think about your favorite book as a child.  What was it?  Where did you get from?  A grandparent?  Was it in your home?  Did your life change after reading that book?  If yes, then that is simply the only reason why you should donate a book.  Let someone else discover the book that changed your life!

How you can help:
There are several ways you can help Milk + Bookies.
  • Donate a book at one of the events.
  • Download a gift card
  • Buy Sweet Pete, the book written by the organization's founder.
  • Buy a t-shirt or their signature cookies
  • Host your own event
  • Get involved in the M+B class project through your school
See more ways, here!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

Have you heard of or watched The Lizzie Bennet Diaries?  It's an online modernized adaptation of
Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  And I am addicted.  My friend Maggie introduced me to this little online gem and I can't get enough of it.

In the 5 episodes I watched so far, we've met Lizzie's 2 sisters (unlike the novel's 4 sisters) which features only Jane and Lydia, her best friend Charlotte, and Lizzie's dramatizations of her parents.  There is also the mentions of Bing Lee (Bingley) and William Darcy.  Lizzie tells her audience about her life through her video blog with occasional visits from her sisters and Charlotte.

It is Lizzie herself who makes the show.  The actress who plays Lizzie, Ashley Clements, really brings the character alive in the 21st century.  She could easily rival the Gilmore Girls any day with her fast, clever talk.  Here's the first episode to give you taste: 

As each episode is about 3 minutes long, you quickly get sucked in.  I really like how they have adapted this novel and how names changes and differing ethnicities bring a fresh approach to this beloved story. 

Catch the story at http://youtube.com/LizzieBennet and find out more about this new adaptation at