Monday, December 29, 2014

Asparagus & Mushroom Risotto

It's been a while since I've posted a recipe, so here is one of my favorite quick meals. You can make it with or without chicken.


Ingredients
  • 3/4 cup chopped asparagus
  • 3/4 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 1 cup white rice
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1/4 tsp. dried basil
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 chicken breast, cut into small pieces (optional)
Directions
  1. If making with chicken, brown the chicken pieces first. 
  2. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Pour in the rice and simmer for 10 minutes.
  3. Mix in the asparagus, mushrooms, and basil, and simmer for another 10 minutes.
  4. Stir in the Parmesan cheese.
Super easy and very delicious!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Our First Thanksgiving without Family

This was the first year I didn't spend Thanksgiving with my family. It's a big deal for us, and I was a little down. And overwhelmed: it was also the first year I had to make the turkey! Since I would be cooking by myself with no one entertaining the boys, I got started two days before by making my mom's Puerto Rican stuffing. It was my first time making that too, and it came out just like my mom's! I was so proud of myself. It ended up being a huge hit on Facebook and at Thanksgiving dinner.


The next day I made pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, rice pilaf, and broccoli casserole, and let the turkey marinate overnight. I had Justin put it in the oven in the morning before leaving to play football with all the missionaries so I wouldn't have to wake up extra early.

Once up, I cooked the cheesy mashed potatoes and mashed sweet potatoes with orange zest while the boys watched a Thanksgiving cartoon. When the popper popped up on the turkey I checked the temperature, which wasn't where it was supposed to be, so I kept it in longer. I was more scared of serving an underdone turkey than a dry one. It ended up dry but not terribly so. There weren't much drippings, but it still made a great gravy! Last thing to make was Justin's boxed stuffing (yuck!) and then putting out the rolls, peas, canned cranberry sauce, and green salad.


The missionaries showed up first, and then a sister from our ward came just as I was finishing laying out the food. I had everything ready by 12:30, something we never accomplish at my parents' house even though there's more help!

Dinner was delicious, if I say so myself. Afterward, Sister Mathews washed my dishes before leaving (which made cleaning up later so much easier!) and I put the boys down for a nap. The rest of us watched the LDS movie The RM.


The past few weeks, the missionaries had been training me and put me on the 12-week program that new missionaries do. I had questions for them, and they offered to teach the first lesson on the Restoration as an example of how to use the principles I was learning. They asked me to play the role of the investigator (person learning about the gospel of Jesus Christ). At the end they asked me to pray if what they taught was true, and I was like, seriously? They told me to play along, so I did. It ended up being one of the most spiritually powerful moments in my life. Let me tell you--it's true! Those two young men have so much power and authority because they are so close to the Spirit due to their studying, praying, serving, and keeping high standards. I hope my boys become as strong of missionaries as they are.

The boys woke up toward the end of the lesson. We made the missionaries do the turkey wobble with us and then we had dessert. Sister Mathews had made a pumpkin pie-like dessert, I brought out the cookies, and I mixed together a quick fruit salad. We played the game Balderdash and had a blast! We also learned that one of the missionaries is an exceptional liar, tsk tsk. ;)

Our friends the Turbees came over so the hubby could taste the food I posted photos of on Facebook. I ate the turkey heart in front of them all but didn't get the reaction I usually do. I was surprised to find myself more disappointed than grateful for their politeness. After the game, everyone left and we put the boys to bed. Justin and I enjoyed some leftovers before going down ourselves. It was a much better Thanksgiving than I had anticipated! I am thankful for the wonderful people here who made it so fun and memorable!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Lakeside Collection Gift Basket Giveaway

Have you always wanted to give a gift basket but couldn't find one with the right gifts inside? Or the price was too high? The Lakeside Collection offers gift baskets that you customize, so you not only can put in whatever you want but also spend how much you want. There are five categories to shop from to please your outdoor friends, foodies, fashionistas, little princesses, and pet lovers.


The Lakeside Collection sent me the Curious Cook gift basket to review. Everything was wrapped superbly, so that although my package arrived a little banged up, the contents were safe and sound.


The gifts included were perfect for my family, too! I loved them all, and my husband was most excited by the bread dipping set. He wanted to go out that night and buy bread so we could use it right away!


The gift basket comes unassembled so you save on shipping and can arrange the basket however you want,  based on what you bought. Or, if you want to split the gifts among people, then you don't have to worry about undoing a fancy, pre-wrapped basket. Either way, there are assembly instructions online for a sample basket of each type so you can get a general idea of how to compile the gifts. This is how I assembled my basket (you can finish it by wrapping it in cellophane, though I prefer it without--better visibility and less waste).


Smiles
*Customization of gifts and price with a variety of items and prices. 
*Low shipping costs.
*Gifts are high quality.
*Comes with return instructions and shipping label.
*If you're not into gift baskets, they have a ton of other unique gifts to choose from!
*Excellent customer service!

Frowns
*Not the type of gift basket you can ship to a distant friend since it isn't pre-assembled, unless your friend is like me and couldn't care less about the presentation.

One of you lucky readers will win any gift basket of your choice! Enter in the Rafflecopter form below. This giveaway is open to the U.S. only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, November 28, 2014

"I Want to be Baptized" Book Review

For those of you who are LDS, I have a fantastic book for you to help prepare your children for baptism: I Want to Be Baptized by Annalisa Hall. This book is excellent in every way possible!


Smiles
*Thoroughly explains why we need to be baptized.
*Great format. For younger children, you can just read the major points, and for older there is an analogy and explanation for each point.
*Includes scriptural and musical references for each point at the end of the book.
*The illustrations (by Corey Egbert) are beautiful, fun, colorful, and detailed.
*All of the above make it very kid friendly. My 4-year-old loves it!
*Makes a great lesson aid for Family Home Evening or Primary.

Frowns
*None.

Annalisa and Corey have also published The Holy Ghost Is like a Blanket, which I really want to get now! It even comes in a board book for little ones. For more information about or to buy the books, visit annalisa-hall.com.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

"95ers: Time Runners" Movie Review

I am a huge fan of clean filmography. However, many family friendly films can be too family friendly. Sometimes I want something for adults but without adult material. The independent film 95ers: Time Runners delivers just that. It has suspense, action, and deep themes without gore, language, and sexuality.

War rages in the distant future. Millions have died and cities lay in ruins. But the most feared weapons are the time machines. Final victory can only be achieved by manipulating the past…

In our day, FBI agent Sally Biggs is obsessed with investigating unsolved cases involving paranormal activities—especially the bizarre disappearance of her scientist husband. She suspects that the mysteries have something to do with the destabilization of time, since she herself has a strange relationship with time. She has the power to rewind it—to go back a few seconds, whenever she wants, and remake her choices.

But she had no idea that her power was connected to the cataclysmic war in the future, and that she, her husband, and their unborn child would become its most important targets. Assassins with terrifying technologies are hunting her, and her own timeline is unraveling. Her only hope is to follow her husband’s ghost to the awesome truth that ties all the mysteries together—before the ones she loves fade out of reality.




Smiles
*High-quality, impressive graphics!
*Mild action violence with no gore.
*No language (though there is one use of bastard if that bothers you).
*Unique spin on time travel.
*I love how it connects to Dickens's A Christmas Carol and emphasizes the power of choices.

Frowns
*I was confused the first half of the movie; I wish it had revealed more in the beginning. Also, although some have praised its use of real scientific theories and terms, I didn't understand any of it, further adding to my confusion.

Visit 95ers.com to watch this cool sci-fi movie today!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Halloweekends

The Halloween season this year was so much fun! I was very happy there were so many things to do. Our first Halloween activity was an impromptu pumpkin-carving night at our church.


Then the Saturday before Halloween we had a fun-filled Halloween day.


We first went to a party at the Great Swamp Conservancy. It was small in size but big in decor and activities. The boys' favorite was playing in the dried-corn box with the trucks.



There were different stuffed animal habitat set-ups--a sea, swamp, farm, jungle, and cave--and some real, small animals outside.









There was also a pinata, reading time, carnival games, crafts, food, facepainting, coloring contest, and more. The boys had lots of fun and didn't want to leave.



Gabe LOVES raisins! It's his "candy."

After nap time we went to a party at the rec center. We were early and there was already a line!


There were carnival games and a haunted house that Caden kept wanting to go through. Upstairs was a talking pumpkin.


Downstairs was pumpkin carving (which we skipped) and a disappointingly small trunk-or-treating. But the participating vehicles were amazingly decked out.


The following Thursday the library had a special reading time that included a scavenger hunt and free fall-themed books. Only one other parent (and the only dad too) dressed up besides me.

I originally wore a red sweater, but changed it to a shirt for Halloween night.

Friday was finally Halloween. Justin was hemming and hawing about taking the boys out, complaining about the cold (it was hardly chilly) and saying they wouldn't be out for more than 20 minutes. This was the first time he was able to go so I wasn't happy with his attitude.


After 45 minutes, they came back to unload so they could get more candy! They left Gabe with me and trick-or-treated for another 45 minutes. Meanwhile, I passed out goodies with my friend. She gave out candy while I handed out bubbles and toys. We gave each kid an option and I was very surprised at how many kids, including some older ones, chose the bubbles and toys over candy! Success! And a couple weeks ago I found tiny containers of Play-Doh on clearance for next year!

Justin's mom sent us his old Ghostbuster's costume, which Caden can't wait to wear next year even though he has no idea who Ghostbusters are. He just wants to use the ghost catcher thingy. I'm thinking of making it into a family themed costume, something we haven't done before!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Christmas in Snow Valley Bookset Review


Two weeks ago I shared with you summaries of the Christmas in Snow Valley romance novellas. Now here is my review of the bookset:

An Unexpected Kiss
*It was just like a Hallmark movie: cheesy, romantic, and unrealistically perfect.

Feels Like Love
*This one had a more realistic situation and a family dynamic I could somewhat relate to. I didn't think the surprise ending fit well with the leading man's personality.

Full Court Devotion
*My favorite! These characters were the most likable and compatible and, as a product of an interracial marriage married to another product of an interracial marriage, I loved the interracial relationship.

The Christmas Eve Kiss & Risking it All for Love
*I didn't care for these stories too much, but I appreciated that they touched on deeper, darker themes.

Blue Christmas
*A perfect ending to the set! It had the right balance of fun and seriousness and had a believable story arc and character change.

Overall Smiles
*Entertaining reads that get you hooked.
*Love how the stories all happen in the same place and time with some of the characters crossing over into the other novellas.
*Clean without being prudish or boring.
*Really gets you in the Christmas spirit--and I'm a Scrooge!

Overall Frowns
*Whoever the publisher's proofreader was needs to be fired! There are not only usage mistakes, but also wrong character names!
*Sometimes too cliche situations and descriptions.

Note: Although clean compared to other romance novels, it is still PG, with sexual references, mostly for background info; a brief, non-graphic attempted rape scene; and one story using damn. So if you are more conservative (along the lines of the Duggar family), then this bookset is not for you.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Gabe's First Haircut

Last Friday Gabriel got his very first haircut! It wasn't planned. Although I cut Caden's hair when it was about the same length as Gabe's, Caden was a couple months older, so I was content letting Gabe go longer with the curls. I thought perhaps once spring came we would cut it. But it was always a mess and getting in his eyes and in my mouth (while co-sleeping). So when Justin decided to get a haircut that morning during a special deal, we thought, why not get Gabe's done too?

Caden had his done at a kid-friendly salon with all the stops, yet he sobbed both times he went there. I wasn't expecting much better from Gabe, especially since this was a regular salon. The hairdresser used to run a day care, so she was prepared with Sesame Street videos on her phone. She also saved some of his hair for us.


Gabe made confused faces and moved his head a lot, but did not cry or even whimper or fight me when I had to hold him still sometimes. He was very cooperative and easy. It was a night and day experience compared to Caden's first time (which you can read about here)!


Gabe looks more grown up and more like his brother. His hair isn't curly anymore, but I know it will grow back. (The funny thing is it was the opposite with Caden; his curls got tighter after being cut.)



 I love my little handsome boy!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Baby Sleep Jokes

Raise your hand if you're a sleep-deprived parent like me! I have two terrible sleepers, and I nursed and co-slept with both, so I found these funny:







And for you non-co-sleepers or parents of multiple kids:


I think the previous cartoon mom agrees with this one:


Hope you get some sleep tonight!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Christmas in Snow Valley Clean Romance Bookset




Christmas in Snow Valley is only $.99 until November 8th.


Snow Valley, Montana, is a small community with the tradition of doing Christmas big. Festivities begin with tree lighting in the town square the day after Thanksgiving and continue until the culminating romantic Christmas Ball. From the Polar Express to a Winter Carnival, there’s something for every wonder-filled  child—and every couple who’s in love—or about to be.

An Unexpected Kiss by Cindy Roland Anderson
Lucy Phillips doesn’t want to spend her Christmas vacation dodging her ex-boyfriend, so when he turns up at the airport to give her a ride home, Lucy panics and asks a complete stranger to kiss her. Although the kiss is incredible, Lucy never expects to see the guy again. Is it bad luck or destiny when Lucy comes down with a sore throat and the new doctor in Snow Valley is none other than the guy she kissed at the airport?

Feels Like Love by Jeanette Lewis
Christmas in Snow Valley is the perfect way for April Winston to introduce her city slicker fiancĂ©, Scott Mecham, to life on a farm. If only Wade Hadley, hometown boy and high school sweetheart, will cooperate! But Wade has no intention of letting April go without a fight. This Christmas, Wade is determined to overcome their painful past and show April that she already has what she’s been seeking all along.

Full Court Devotion by Cami Checketts
Kazlyn is too busy with her schooling and future plans to enjoy life, let alone fall in love with a man who has heartbreak written all over him. Tyrese Hamilton, a college basketball star and major heartthrob, is intrigued when Kazlyn doesn't pursue him or even seem interested. Ty's career is in jeopardy, and he needs a miracle and Kazlyn to save him.

The Christmas Eve Kiss by Taylor Hart
When Molly O’Hare gets a prediction that she will kiss her true love on Christmas Eve, she thinks it’s utterly ridiculous. But when she gets teamed up with Kevin Snow, aka her ex-boyfriend, to decorate a Christmas tree, things start to change. Too bad getting over the past is hard and seeing him kiss another girl is even harder. Now Molly is left with a choice—run away from home and heartbreak or let Christmas work out a miracle all of its own.

Risking it all for Love by Award-Winning author, Kimberley Montpetit
Ever since her high school boyfriend's death from a car accident three years earlier, Jessica Mason and her hometown of Snow Valley, Montana, with all its awful memories, have not been compatible. Running away to New Orleans on a ballet scholarship, Jessica cringes when she thinks about confronting Pastor John and the community church--she doesn't want to talk about God, not after He took Michael, the boy she was going to marry ever since third grade.

In the local scene of funky New Orleans, Jessica seeks out Madame LaBlanc, hoping Michael will absolve her of her guilt the night of the car accident in a seance, but the spirit world is silent and she fears the grief will drown her.

Finally succumbing to family pressure, Jessica reluctantly returns for Christmas - and the little town of Snow Valley does Christmas big. When she visits Michael’s grave in the church yard, Jessica is shocked to meet handsome James Douglas, Pastor John’s nephew, who’s studying for the ministry. No, she is not going to be attracted to someone who wants to be a preacher! Definitely not compatible! But James Douglas is unlike any minister-in-training she's ever met. James can not only dish back Jessica’s finely tuned sarcasm but understands grief all too well, turning Jessica’s world upside down.

Can Jessica forgive herself for that terrible, fateful night? Can she take another risk on love?

Blue Christmas by Lucy McConnell
As head of Snow Valley hospital's fundraising effort, Paisley Hackett barely has time to organize the craft show, cookie decorating party, and the annual Christmas Ball. What she doesn't have time for is falling in love with Clay Jett, the incredibly handsome bass player who sweeps into town. She's been burned by a tourist romance before and, with everything going on, Paisley will have to work overtime to protect her heart from Clay and his swoon-worthy ballads.

Click any link at the top to buy your copy of Christmas in Snow Valley today while the price is low!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Christian Fine Art 8x10 Print Giveaway [CLOSED]

Several years ago, my friends lost their 4-month-old baby. I had a hard time finding an affordable and beautiful gift for them, until I stumbled upon Bugaboo Jewelry (it was also my first giveaway on this blog!). Last year, another woman I know lost her baby, this time in utero. I wanted to get her a similar customized gift, but I didn't know the details that well and didn't know her well enough to ask. I looked for other gift ideas multiple times, but didn't buy any, and thought the lateness of the gift would be awkward.

A year went by, and I thought the anniversary would be a good time for me to try again. I decided on a card I found during one of my previous searches. It was a beautiful drawing of Jesus cuddling a newborn, made by Alicia of Christian Fine Art. I asked Alicia to make it into a card instead of a print so I could write a message to my friend. Not only did she do that for me, but she also included an envelope and an extra card! I hope I won't need to use it anytime soon.


All of Alicia's artwork is wonderful and uplifting.


I am a mom in my mid-30s with four children. I absolutely love music and dancing! I also love ripsticking, long-boarding, roller blading, jogging, and hiking. Most of all, with everything I do in life--whether it's raising children, helping a friend, or painting a picture--my greatest desire is to inspire people to believe in Christ, His love, and His grace and to follow His words. This desire to share my personal testimony is born of the hope, joy, and peace I have found in my faith.


Smiles
*Beautiful, realistic artwork.
*Great gifts and home decor for Christians, and inspirational artwork that the nonreligious can appreciate as well.
*Excellent customer service! Alicia responds to questions quickly and is very accommodating.
  
Frowns
*I would love to see new artwork in the shop!

 One of you will win an 8x10 print of any baby-themed drawing! Open to the U.S. & Canada.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, October 24, 2014

Featured Seller: Danielle from Anchored Archer

It's been a while since I've done a feature! This week's featured seller is Danielle from Anchored Archer.

My passion for jewelry began when I was a child roaming through antique stores with my mom every weekend. Being no more than three feet tall at the time, the only thing at eye level was the dazzling displays of fine jewelry.


I've always been in motion and in search of a creative outlet. I've experimented with and taken classes in every genre of craft and arts possible, including painting, drawing, sewing, crocheting, and photography. While I enjoyed all of these crafts, I never really felt satisfied and I still needed a way to keep my hands busy when I got home from my day job as a mechanical engineer. This mindset is what eventually brought me to jewelry design.


A strong believer in DIY with a deep curiosity for discovering how things are made, I dove head first into jewelry making desiring to make my own versions of gorgeous items I coveted in magazines. What began as a small hobby has become a serious labor of love. My analytical and detail oriented background has given me the ability to teach myself techniques as I've needed them and to find new and inventive ways to apply my inspiration.


My work is inspired by many vintage themes, from intricate Victorian fashion to the natural swirling forms of art nouveau architecture. My ideas take these grand, romantic themes and traditional techniques and make them relevant to today's modern fashion.


For a full portfolio of Danielle's work, visit her Etsy shop or Anchoredarcher.com. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter (@anchoredarcher). New customers can use the coupon code BLOGFREESHIP for free shipping on orders over $30.

Monday, October 20, 2014

California Adventure Part 2

Friday afternoon we went to a family fun center with the Lyles kids and their neighbors. Caden had a blast! He wouldn't stop talking about it the first week we were home. He went on every ride multiple times and wasn't even afraid of the one I thought he would be, the one that went straight up and down. The only one he couldn't go on was the kiddie go carts. He was even too short to be a passenger on the regular ones.







The nice workers let us mini golf for free. Gabe had a good time putting the ball in the hole.



I tried the rock climbing wall with Sariah. I was terrible at it! The last time I went indoor rock climbing was on my first date when I was 16.



While there, I got a text that my flight the next day was cancelled (due to the Chicago airport fire). After much time and effort, my dad got me a new itinerary for Sunday. Saturday started out with chores, just as when I was living with my parents, while Grandpa took the boys to the playground.


Having fun with musical instruments (or "extraments" as Caden called them)!

I went back to my brother's house to watch my niece's quinceanera video, and then all the girls went to the General Women's Broadcast at the church. Grandpa watched the boys again, taking them to another park, the lake, the car wash (Caden's request), Costco, and then my brother's house to play.



While watching the broadcast I started feeling extremely dizzy and nauseated, so I walked out. I didn't throw up, but I stayed in the mother's room, where I could be near a trash and sink and still hear the broadcast. My mom found me and stayed with me. After the broadcast there was a light meal. I thought eating might help since I hadn't eaten in a while, but it didn't. We went to pick up the boys, and I asked my brother and dad to give me a blessing. The rest of the night was terrible. Puking didn't help. I decided to go to sleep, and my parents took Gabe for the whole night. Needless to say, they didn't get much sleep! I didn't want to travel in this condition, so my dad rebooked my flights again for Monday. The next morning I didn't feel nauseated but I still had a headache. I stayed home from church and slept, and my family took the boys.

Monday morning came and I was fit enough to travel, though not looking forward to it. It took us over 2 hours to get to LAX, and I barely made my flight in time. At least I didn't have to entertain the boys again! However, since they slept in the car, they didn't sleep much on the plane. Gabriel was especially hard to please. Thankfully, the lady next to us asked to move across the aisle, giving us more room. She was wearing a giant fur coat, and when Gabe saw her he signed dog and started barking.

Buckling in Elmo

Everyone was nice, and we survived the first long flight. I even took Gabe potty 3 times on the plane! Now that's hardcore EC! We had a layover and ate at a little Mexican restaurant. Then our second flight was delayed an hour. I had Caden watch Curious George on my iPhone while I (unsuccessfully) tried to get Gabe to sleep. He stayed fussy, making me fear everyone on the tiny plane would hate us by the end, but once we were in the air he went out. The ladies in front of me were especially sympathetic. I thanked them after the flight and gave them passalong cards (awkwardly; I wish I had prefaced it with something like, "Since you ladies are so family friendly I thought you would be interested in this.").

We were all so happy to see Justin again! Gabe slept on the way home too, so I was afraid he wouldn't want to go to bed, especially when I finally let him down for the first time nearly all day and he saw his toys. While in CA, I had to sing him to sleep every night, which I never do at home. But that first night he didn't cry and went to sleep.

I am so grateful to my parents for giving us this vacation. We had a wonderful time!
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