Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Book Reviews

I have been meaning to do some quick book reviews on the last few books I have read, and noticed that it has gotten a little out of hand, so I better get crack-a-lackin’ so I don’t fall too too far behind. Almost all of the books on my read list (seen on the right-hand side of my blog) have come from the library, and a few were read before I started my new blog, but I wanted to get them in. So, my sorta-mini book reviews (from oldest read to most current)....

Naked Empire by Terry Goodkind
Naked Empire is Book 8 of the Sword of Truth series. Truth is, most of the books in this series are pretty much self contained, even though to know what’s going on in one, you need to have read the previous ones, but you can read the next one without really feeling that need to read the next one (not usually any cliff hangers here). If any of you watch Legend of the Seeker, it is based on these books. However, these books have a lot of the same, as far as plot, and sometimes the main character seems a little too preachy and a little too righteous. I really liked the first books of this series, but the later ones are just okay.

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
Being a religious and spiritual person myself I was very curious about these books. Were they really as bad as many churches claimed they were? (Granted, there were many protests on the Harry Potter books and I paid them no mind – it’s one of my favorite series!) Overall, I liked this one, though I could see where the main character was a little hard to like. A spoiled, bratty child all of a sudden thrust in the role as proposed savior seemed a little far-fetched. However, there is one point in the book where I got emotional (it’s when a little kid gets cut off from his daemon, and the way it was written really touched me). Overall I enjoyed it enough to make me want to read the next one (and want to see the movie as well).

Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

Elantris was a very pleasant surprise to me. The reason we picked it up is because Sanderson was hand-picked to finish the last book in The Wheel of Time series (since Robert Jordan passed away before finishing it), and I was a little concerned to see if he was up to the task. This was his first published novel, written when he was 24 or 25, though it took him several years to get it published. (I think I wrote my NaNoWriMo novel around the same time. Yeah, where is THAT?) I like this fantasy novel because it’s a one-shot, which is rare for fantasy books these days. His writing style’s nice and concise, his characters believable, and his take on a magical system interesting. Brian and I liked it so much that we even got one of our friends to read it and she couldn’t put it down – and she doesn’t really read fantasy!

The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman
This book is told from a different point of view than The Golden Compass. You can see a little more of the author’s agenda against the church in this one, but I didn’t find it as captivating and interesting as the first one. However, at this point I felt I was invested and decided to continue. I didn’t have to, but it wasn’t so horrible.

The Riddle-Master of Hed by Patricia McKillip
It took me a LONG time to get into this book, but I must say that toward the end, I was intrigued by what would happen next – just enough for a cliff hanger. McKillip’s writing style is a little hard to get into. Seems almost archaic, even though it isn’t. I’ve been trying to get a hold of the next one, but it’s a different library. Hopefully it will keep my interest.

The Amber Spyglass by Phillip Pullman
The last book of this series, and frankly, kind of disappointing. That the main character was supposed to be a new Eve (yes, as in Adam and), and how she was supposed to be tempted by this great thing, well, it all turned out a little anticlimactic for me. And I feel Pullman was really pushing his hatred against the church in this last book. Brian couldn’t finish it, though I did, just so I could. Overall, this series was just okay, for me. Nothing to add to my personal collection, though.

Taliesin by Stephen R. Lawhead
Some time ago I read another Lawhead series (this is the Pendragon cycle) which incorporated a man from our known world who goes back in time to a world where the Celts rule and there are also seemingly magical abilities. I liked that series overall, except for the end, which bothered me for several reasons (don’t want to ruin anything for anyone) and put me off of Lawhead for awhile. But we were at the library needing to find something to read, and Brian likes Lawhead, so …. One thing that he does, which I find interesting, is that he likes to shake things up, as far as point of view. I don’t know if I like it, but he’s consistent about changing it. Heh. Interestingly, this book begins before Merlin and how he comes to be. It was interesting enough to pick up the next one to see what HE does with a re-telling of this well-known story.

The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling
I picked this up at Wal-Mart to complete my Harry Potter collection (yes, I even have some student “books”) and actually liked some of the moral tales. A fresh take on stories that have morals to them that are new, yet interesting.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
A recommendation not only by my friend Christine, but also by Amazon.com based on my reads and searches. I don’t know how exactly one would describe this story: third-person, first-person narrative? Basically, it’s a person telling another person about his life. Yes, it’s fantasy, and yes, set in a sort of medieval/renaissance-type setting, and of course, there’s magic. The writing isn’t necessarily overly wowing, but for some reason, this story really drew me in. Maybe because it’s kind of like a memoir, or an auto-biography, someone wanting to tell you his life story, and I very much enjoyed it and was very disheartened to see it end (and know that it’s several months yet before the next one comes out).

Stardust by Neil Gaiman
I read Gaiman’s blog on a regular basis. I really like him from what I can tell based on his blog and the like. However, some of his stories I like, and others I don’t. Granted, I haven’t read a lot, but enough. I have not seen the movie based on this book. His writing on his shorter novels always seems a little more simpler, but yet he weaves a nice rich world, with interesting creatures and characters. This, I believe, is supposed to be almost like a fairy tale or moral tale, of sorts, and overall I liked it, though sometimes I found the Star a little too … erm, dunno, well, not likable. So far, out of what I have read, Neverwhere is my favorite Gaiman-only book (because Good Omens was pretty funny, but co-written).

All in all, I have to say that Name of the Wind and Elantris were my favorites out of the ones I’ve read so far, which is nice. It means there are newer authors on the scene that we can expect some great things from (and I know Sanderson has a series called Mistborn which I’ve read is even better than Elantris, except those are at another library).

Thank you for giving some recommendations, some of which I even got this last time at the library. If you have any others, pass them on. Oh, and while fantasy IS my genre of choice, I do like other things. Remember, Pride and Prejudice IS my favorite novel.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Recipe: Crockpot Chicken and Sausage Paella

A new favorite dish from our Better Homes and Gardens Wedding Cookbook:

Chicken and Sausage Paella
Serves 6

If you don't have saffron, one of the world's most expensive spices, substitute turmeric, an economical and equally delicious alternative.

• 2 1/2 to 3 pounds meaty chicken pieces (breasts, thighs, and drumsticks), skinned
• 1 tablespoon cooking oil
• 8 ounces cooked smoked turkey sausage, halved lengthwise and sliced
• 1 large onion, sliced
• 3 cloves garlic, minced
• 2 tablespoons snipped fresh thyme or 2 teaspoons dried thyme, crushed
• 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
• 1/8 teaspoon thread saffron or 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
• 1 14-ounce can reduced-sodium chicken broth
• 1/2 cup water
• 2 cups chopped tomatoes
• 2 medium yellow or green sweet peppers, cut into thin bite-size strips (1 1/2 cups)
• 1 cup frozen peas
• 3 cups hot cooked rice or one 5-ounce package saffron-flavored yellow rice mix, cooked according to package directions

1. In a large skillet brown chicken pieces, half at a time, in hot oil. Drain off fat. In a 3 1/2- or 4-quart crockery cooker place chicken pieces, turkey sausage, and onion. Sprinkle with garlic, dried thyme (if using), black pepper, and saffron. Pour broth and water over all.

2. Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 7 to 8 hours or on high-heat setting for 3 1/2 to 4 hours. Add the tomatoes, sweet peppers, peas, and fresh thyme (if using) to the cooker. Cover and let stand for 5 minutes. Serve over rice.


Honestly, this isn't an actual paella, but who has a paella pan and a stove big enough to cook it on? This is like a thick, hearty soup that comes close to tasting like paella. But it's SO good!!! If you add a little more chicken, and a little more rice, you can actually raise the servings to 8. The picture in the book looks way better than mine, but then again, it actually showed whole pieces of chicken left over, which just doesn't happen, but it's so good as it falls apart. Also, you have to use the saffron rice -- it just adds so much! (Although you might want to cut corners with the tomatoes, as I used canned, diced and it was just as tasty.) You can try adding other types of meat/seafood, but you need a pretty large crockpot to put it in. So, just add some hot, crusty bread and you're good to go. YUM!

Friday, February 20, 2009

What's Your Decorating Style?

A friend posted on her blog a link to a quiz to find out your decorating style. Mine is:

41% Wine Country

Tuscan sun, here we come! The Wine Country style reflects the feelings evoked by the seaside regions of Europe such as the South of France, Spain, Italy and Greece. The style manages to be both refined and casual, such that you can mix beautiful antiques with more rustic wrought iron or wood and the result is both sophisticated and cozy.

Furniture is large and comfortable, colors are bright and cheery, and regardless of the color palette the spaces almost always feel warm. You can easily translate the style into the perfect family environment but you can just as easily emphasize the more formal pieces and make your room the perfect adult getaway.

30% Traditional Country

Even if your backyard isn't acres of farmland and you don't actually have a cow out in the barn, your house sure brings you back to a time when that was the case for many.

You love spaces that feel casual and lived in. Furniture is practical and comfortable, and yet at the same time its very stylish. The best part of country style is how much it highlights collection and found objects. Antiques here, garage sale finds there and Aunt Milly's hand-me-downs throughout. Unique items that used to serve very practical purposes are now on display, and their history seems to permeate the home. Each space in the home seems to invite friends and family to come in and stay a while. There is a true sense of home felt throughout.

29% Classic

What's old is new again! The beauty of Classic style is how well it takes all of the beautiful forms, colors and textures of the past and reinvents them in a way that feels both fresh and inspired.

The style itself is a mix of European influences and French, English and Italian antiques and replicas are often used together. Furniture is well proportioned and comfortable and the rooms give off an air of sophistication and grace. Oil paintings depicting still-life or nature scenes and emphasizing symmetry of pairs helps maintain the traditional nature of the room. Windows are often covered with opulent fabric shades and/or drapery.

Traditional rooms give off an air of history that seems to say "I was here long before you, and will remain long after you've gone." And yet, even with this level of sophistication, the rooms are soft and inviting.

Many years ago, I believed that "country" equaled farm house decor, or lots of ugly florals, BUT, I have since discovered that it is not the case, and that "country" very much suits me. (While I had plans to already be decorating a house at this point, it's always good to put this down to remind myself down the road.) Overall I like the rooms above, though I would definitely change out some things here or there.

So, take the quiz and find out your decorating style (and let me know, as I'm curious.)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Late for Heart Day

Brian and I spent an uneventful Saturday at home for Valentine's Day. It was kind of nice. We slept in late, and then watched TV and movies the rest of the day (after doing some quick chores in the morning). For dinner we had a ham, twice-baked potatoes and deviled eggs. With key lime cake for dessert. Mmm! Our nice dinner was our "treat" to each other, instead of gifts, although we each handmade a card for the other. Brian tried his first attempt at hybrid card making. It was sweet and cute.

From me to Brian:

(I had originally intended this card for the VDay KWerner color inspiration, but I didn't capture the picture in time to submit it. Ah, well.)

The poem by Leo Buscaglia reads:

Love is always bestowed as a gift --
freely, willingly, and without expectation...
We don't love to be loved; we love to love.

From Brian to me:

I like the Japanese-inspired theme he used. Loved the little Anime SD boy and girl. Too cute! ^_^ (I won't post what he wrote, since it IS a little personal, but maybe you can read it.)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Photo Session Giveaway

If you live in/near DFW (that's Dallas/Fort Worth to all you non-Texans), my sister-in-law's sister Missy is doing a photo session giveaway contest. All you have to do is leave a comment on her blog!

For those of you that may remember, Brian and I did a session with Missy back in November, and we had some great photos, including this one (probably my favorite, and also my current Facebook profile pic ^_^).

But hurry, the contest ends on Thursday evening!

(PS - Missy also did my wedding invites/announcements, so her designs are awesome as well!)

Monday, February 9, 2009

Saving Money Makes Me Tired

Since I don't have a steady income yet, I've been trying really hard to save money on groceries and regular household items (like "bathroom tissue," detergent, etc.) that can quickly add up when you're not paying attention (like hitting over $100 a week at Wal-Mart sometimes!). But saving money takes time and effort!

I've started by clipping coupons. I've tried this several times before, but it never really seemed to make a difference at Wal-Mart. However, I've been reading a lot of blogs and forums of women who really know how to work the system and they are inspiring! First, I figured that they make their coupons work for them by having an arsenal (and not just one of the same coupon, but several -- and also looking at e-coupons), and then they work the stores that have double and triple coupon days. Then you have to scour the sale ads for the grocery stores and, in conjunction with the coupons, you can come out pretty sweetly. For example, on one blog I read (can't remember which one right now) she recently posted how she went to Kroger and bought about $120 worth of groceries but only paid $30 some odd for them out of pocket. Wow. Truly wow.

Then, there are those that supplement their groceries by using CVS and their rewards card (I'm just starting to try this out, so we'll see how I'll do and let you know).

Anyway, today Brian and I went to the store, with coupons in hand, ready to buy 2 weeks worth of groceries (because they don't usually run the double and triple coupon days every week). I wanted to make my coupons work! Sometimes we had to figure out if it was better to buy the store brand or use the coupon on the brand name. Usually the store brand won out, but there are a few things I won't compromise on, like Peter Pan Crunchy Peanut Butter. MMmmm.... Anyway, all in all I think we did really well. While our coupons only gave us about $12 off, that's still something, and along with the "store savings" (yeah, read that how you will), they claimed on the receipt that we saved about $25 overall. Still have a ways to go, and I don't know if I'll ever get to be as savvy as those other women, but I'm trying. (Oh, and I THINK I got enough groceries for 2 weeks, but sometimes things tend to creep up on you and you go, "oh, I need this from the store." We'll see. ^_^)

But boy, was I tired! I've even heard of families who shop only once a month. I don't know how they manage.

Anyone have any grocery/coupon/shopping tips? Would love to learn something more!

Friday, February 6, 2009

DigiScrap: Sweet Yuki

Sweet Yuki

YUKI/January 2, 2009
Template: Armina

Green Paper: Breen Boone
All other papers: "Sweet Serenity" Kit by Shabby Princess
Bracket Shape: Peppermint Creative
Jewels: Miriam Lima
"See Clearly" Alpha: Misty Cato
Yellow Glitter Style: Thaty Borges

Font: Pea Rebecca

Layout done for KWerner's Color Inspiration Challenge #40.

Can you tell I love swirls and glitter??? And these are recent pictures of Yuki -- isn't she beautiful?! (I added the sepia tone using a Photoshop action, since her collar is red and would have clashed with the colors in the LO.) I love using templates as it makes quick digiscrapping and use of different colors a snap. I'm quite lucky I found these colors almost all in one digikit. I thought I might have issues with the green, but it turned out quite nicely. And can I just tell you, I love Fonts for Peas!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

When It Rains, It Pours

Sometimes it's good. Sometimes it's not so good.

This week it has appeared to be some of the not-so-good. It began last Saturday, when Brian got a flat tire on his way home from work. Whatever he ran over did some major damage, and unfortunately the small spare he had wasn't the right size, so he went ahead and got two new tires at the tire place. Then, he couldn't find his mobile phone. He had it to call me about the tire situation, so we think it must have fallen on the side of the road when he was changing the tires. We've called it and it goes straight to voicemail, so more than likely it's in bits and pieces somewhere. Not necessarily money we have to spend, but, it needs to be taken care of, right?

Then, after doing our taxes I realize that number showing up is not our refund -- it's money we owe. *sigh* I have never owed money. While it isn't a huge amount of money, it was money we were hoping to get back so we could buy a new TV (mine's over 16 years old). But that money instead is now going to the government.

And then this morning, while I'm on my way out to my car to go to an appointment (at another placement agency that will hopefully give me some freelance work), I discover that ... I have a flat tire. Yep.

And really, at this point, it's just laughable. I'm not really trying to say, "Oh, woe is me!" That's why I started out this post with "appeared to be not-so-good." I'm not saying that two flat tires, a lost mobile that will need to be replaced, and money owed TO the IRS is good but, well, it's just the facts, really. It's just interesting all that has happened in one week. It could really get a person down (although, I will admit that for a little while after doing our taxes, I was a little bummed). But, we've had it worse (like when Brian's car was stolen, or when he owed several thousand dollars to his university for what student loans hadn't paid for), so, all you can do is move on.

But you know, Brian and I are still blessed. I'm being given the opportunity to try my hand at something new; even though we were sad to be moving from our last area, this area has given me a new-found, fabulous friend that I bet she really doesn't even begin to comprehend what she means to me (and we're not that close yet); Brian's doing really well at his job which he likes; we have a nice place to live and beautiful cats that keep us so entertained; and the Lord has seen to it that I can't be bored, by having me help out with teaching little kids (again), help with social activities at church, and being involved in missionary work to bring people to church. So, overall things are great. And I can't tell you how nice it is not having to be on a set schedule. And do I miss co-workers? Nah, not really. Except for my first job, I haven't really connected with anyone at my previous places. Besides, I have lots of friends that are only an e-mail away. ^_^

Monday, February 2, 2009

Hybrid Craft: Sunny, Flowery Birthday Card

Sunny Birthday Card (Hybrid Craft)

Made this for a friend's birthday last week. It's a hybrid craft, because the stripe and floral paper (behind the "happy birthday") were digital papers which I printed and cut out and mounted on cut-and-scored card stock. I also added white card stock inside and printed a quote on it, and then added a traditional paper craft rubon over the quote (and also added a flower to the front). Overall I like the card, but something's a little off. I think I have a ways to go with card making -- I have issues cutting in a straight line. *LOL*

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