Friday, July 31, 2015

The Wonder of All Things (and giveaway!!)

You guys. I'm asking to stop what you're doing, go get your wallet, and order this book. Right now.

The Wonder of All Things - Jason Mott
The Wonder of All Things
On the heels of his critically acclaimed and New York Times bestselling debut novel, The Returned, Jason Mott delivers a spellbinding tale of love and sacrifice 

On an ordinary day, at an air show like that in any small town across the country, a plane crashes into a crowd of spectators. After the dust clears, a thirteen-year-old girl named Ava is found huddled beneath a pocket of rubble with her best friend, Wash. He is injured and bleeding, and when Ava places her hands over him, his wounds disappear. 

Ava has an unusual gift: she can heal others of their physical ailments. Until the air show tragedy, her gift was a secret. Now the whole world knows, and suddenly people from all over the globe begin flocking to her small town, looking for healing and eager to catch a glimpse of The Miracle Child. But Ava's unique ability comes at a great cost, and as she grows weaker with each healing, she soon finds herself having to decide just how much she's willing to give up in order to save the ones she loves most. 

Elegantly written, deeply intimate and emotionally astute, The Wonder of All Things is an unforgettable story and a poignant reminder of life's extraordinary gifts.


As soon as I saw this book up for review, I immediately jumped on it because I read Jason's first novel, The Returned, and it was amazing. To say he writes elegantly and profoundly is a total understatement. I was absolutely not disappointed with his sophomore effort because like his first novel,  he was able to take a really incredible thing and turn it into a moral dilemma with no clear winners, but offers you all points of view. Almost to the point where you don't leave the book with a clear cut opinion, which to me, is a sign that something was successfully argued. 

The book is about Ava. Poor Ava is involved in a horrific plane crash on an ordinary day. A victim in the rubble, she looks over and sees her best friend Wash, who is so badly injured that he's basically dead. In her grief, she places her  hands on him and essentially heals him. People see this and immediately it's nationwide news that this little girl can heal people. Then we begin to have flashbacks of Ava and her mother, basically when she learned she could do this. After a hospitalization herself, Ava and her family find themselves bombarded with requests of healing power for themselves or their loved ones. Close friends of the family feel betrayed having lost their own loved ones while all the while Ava had the power of healing and in theory, could have saved them. 

But the book brings up the moral dilemma: if you could heal someone, would you? Would you have an obligation to do that? At what point does your gift no longer become yours, but belong to everyone? Especially when every time she does this, it takes a toll on her and her body. Should she sacrifice herself for the benefit of others? 

You want to shield her because you learn you really can't trust anyone. People become ruthless, even hateful, towards her and it's horrible, really. I can't really give much more without ruining it for you but to say this book sticks with me is a total understatement. After finishing it I really thought about it long after. It was just such a solid book, I can't recommend this highly enough. 

If interested, you can connect with Jason on his website, Facebook, and Twitter. The Wonder of All Things is also available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Lucky for you, I have one copy I can give away (US/Canada only)! All you need to do is leave a comment on this post telling me: if you had the power to heal, would you heal everyone who asked, or would you be selective?  I will draw a winner on Monday, August 3! 


Welcome to Sara's Organized Chaoscx




Thursday, July 30, 2015

Forgotten

I'll be upfront, I am really mad that it took me so long to read and review this book. I'm reminded how much I love Catherine McKenzie and I am a super fan.

Forgotten - Catherine McKenzie
Forgotten
Emma Tupper is a dedicated lawyer with a bright future. But when she takes a month-long leave of absence to go on an African vacation, she ends up facing unexpected consequences. After she falls ill and spends six months trapped in a remote village thanks to a devastating earthquake, Emma returns home to discover that her friends, boyfriend, and colleagues thought she was dead--and that her life has moved on without her.

As she struggles to re-create her old life, throwing herself into solving a big case for a client and trying to reclaim her beloved apartment from the handsome photographer who assumed her lease, everyone around her thinks she should take the opportunity to change. But is she willing to sacrifice her job, her relationships, and everything else she worked so hard to build?

In "Forgotten," Catherine McKenzie tweaks a classic tale of discovering who we really are when everything that brings meaning to our lives is lost.


Everything you love about Catherine McKenzie is in this book, it's just.. different. What I loved about her first two books was I found myself laughing through the book. I'd say this book is a bit of a heavier story line, but I still really felt like it was true to Catherine's writing style and I couldn't help but love it. It's still fun, it still has humor in it, it just wasn't a strong focal point in this book but it really worked. Catherine was able to balance the funny and the serious really well, not always an easy feat. 

So we have Emma, who we immediately learn has lost her mother. Her mother was a fan of everything to do with Africa, and African culture, so to maybe connect with her dead mother Emma decides to go to Africa on an extended vacation. Unfortunately, it kind of ends up to be a vacation from hell because she does get very ill, experiences a pretty horrible earthquake (is it weird that I didn't know Africa had earthquakes??), she ends up trapped in a fairly remote village. Eventually though, Emma comes home and expects to pick up where she left off. But nobody and nothing waited for her, it's like time stopped for her but continued on for everyone else. She feels forgotten, literally. 

When she gets to her apartment, her key doesn't work. There is some man living there, her landlord rented it out assuming that she was missing or dead, all of her stuff is gone. Not just that, but her law office thinks she dead, they actually hold a memorial for her. Her boyfriend is dating someone new, her friend is off trying to look for her dead body, so she really is stuck. She doesn't know how to get her old life back, and is unsure of what a new life would look like. 

I couldn't help but love Emma. I really did, and I felt so bad for her but found myself laughing at her through the book. The possibility of being able to start your life over from scratch is something that I think a lot of 30 somethings think about, which is maybe why I enjoyed this book so much. The only thing that bugged me is the amount of drinking that happens in the book. Now, I know drinking is a popular thing but for me, it seems like it's an easy out versus dealing with issues. Not just with characters but in real life. I'm not as entertained by characters who are just getting blasted every time something new pops up. But honestly, this might just be me so don't take that as a reason to not buy the book. You absolutely should buy the book. 

Lucky for you, it's available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Happy reading! 

Welcome to Sara's Organized Chaoscx

The Ones We Trust (and giveaway!)

You don't know how lucky you are that I have so many good books up ahead for you all. August is going to be a BUSY reading month!

The Ones We Trust - Kimberly Belle
The Ones We Trust
A moving and evocative exploration of grief and guilt in the wake of one family's devastating loss. 

When former DC journalist Abigail Wolff attempts to rehabilitate her career, she finds herself at the heart of a US army cover-up involving the death of a soldier in Afghanistan -- with unspeakable emotional consequences for one family. As the story of what happened comes to light, Abigail will do anything to write it. 

The more evidence she stumbles upon in the case, the fewer people it seems she can trust, including her own father, a retired army general. And she certainly never expected to fall in love with the slain soldier's brother, Gabe, a bitter man struggling to hold his family together. The investigation eventually leads her to an impossible choice, one of unrelenting sacrifice to protect those she loves.

Beyond the buried truths and betrayals, questions of family loyalty and redemption, Abigail's search is, most of all, a desperate grasp at carrying on and coping -- and seeking hope in the impossible.


You know what this book feels like? An episode of Scandal!! The great thing about this book is that at 288 pages, it's the perfect length to cover so much material. My copy also came with a Reader's Guide at the end, which I always appreciate because sometimes I think about parts of the book a little differently once I go through that. It's always a nice added bonus. 

The story centers around Abigail, who was a fantastic journalist who ended up giving the excitement up after a pretty great story led to tragic consequences. She questions her judgement, and in fear, retreats to a boring world of content curator for a website designed around senior citizens. Though she has retreated, there are people who try to lure her back. One being the son of someone involved in the story that stunted her exciting career- he wants to know what really happened to his mother and provides Abigail with interesting information. More pressing is Gabe. Gabe lost his famous brother in Afghanistan and he believes there is something far more sinister at play with his brother's death than what the Army reported to them. With Abigail's ties to the Army, specifically the unit Gabe's brother was in, Gabe (who hates journalists and was none too pleased to find out Abigail was one) decides Abigail is going to get the answers him and his family need. 

Unfortunately, when the mystery is uncovered, it's not at all what they wanted. Though it can be argued if any outcome would have been sufficient for them, but the outcome here is far more tragic than they could have imagined. It also answers so many questions at the same time. 

The characters are so great, the relationships are true and realistic, and I really loved watching it all grow together. Because while we have Abigail trying to figure it all out, we also see the beginning of a relationship between Abigail and Gabe and it's so great. I so highly recommend this one. It's not too much thriller, it's not too much romance, it's the perfect blend of it all and I thoroughly enjoyed this! 

You can follow the author, Kimberly Belle, on her website, Facebook, or Twitter. Of course, you can get the book on Amazon or Barnes & Noble as well! 

Lucky for you, I have one copy to give away (US/CANADA only). All you have to do  is comment below with a recent favorite book you've read! That's it! I'll draw a winner on Monday, August 3! 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Come away with me... top 10 bucket list!

Harlequin has this really fun contest to help promote Karma Brown's new book, Come Away With Me.
I am such a huge fan of bucket lists in general, and one of my favorite shows of all time is An Idiot Abroad. Essentially Karl Pilkington goes on adventures that Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant send him on and they are all classic bucket list items. Obviously, hilarity ensues and we all laugh, but the truth of the matter is that I am very much the female Karl Pilkington. I say I want adventure, all the way until it happens and I am in freak out mode. I'm scared of things, god knows I certainly won't be eating strange things which is why I will likely never travel abroad. To say I have the palette of a toddler is really a massive understatement. 

But that's not to say I don't want to go on adventures or that I don't have a bucket list. I most certainly do. I have been compiling one for awhile as I learn about new things and eventually, I'll get to them. I will. They aren't in any order on that list but if I had to narrow it down to a top 10 for contest purposes, I'd have to go with these: 

1. Take a cross country road trip. I truly want to go from one coast to the other. I do love a good road trip and the more bizarre road side attractions, the better. 

2. Go on a cruise. I've never been, but I'd like to go on one of those cruises that bounce around a few islands. 

3. Spend a week in Key West. Would you believe that despite being from Florida, I have never been to Key West? My plan was always to spend a week in Key West, and then get on my cruise. 

4. Ride on a swamp boat. I am absolutely terrified of wilderness and alligators so clearly, it would make perfect sense for me to do this. 

5. Bike across two states. Ever since I read the book Going Somewhere by Brian Benson, I have wanted to buy a bike and go on an epic bike trip. Preferably with someone who knows what they are doing because I'd like to cry like a girl and someone just fix the problem for me. 

6. Attend the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C. I have always wanted to go to D.C for all of the obvious tourist reasons. But I absolutely love cherry blossom trees, and I decided that the only time I'll go to D.C. is when those are in full bloom. 

7. Take a haunted cemetery tour in Savannah, Georgia. Fun fact, I'm terrified of a lot of things. Specifically any kind of haunted anything. But I watched a documentary on these cemetery tours on Civil War battlefields and I just want to do it. Even if I pee my pants. 

8. See Niagara Falls and ride on a ferry boat. I've never been to Niagara Falls, but I definitely want to go. And I want to be that crazy person who rides the ferry boat and comes off totally drenched. 

9. Swim with dolphins. Dolphins are my favorite water animal and every time I have ever gone to Florida to visit family, I've wanted to swim with dolphins. Sadly, it's too expensive for us on vacation but some day... I'm going to do it. Budget be damned. 

10. Do a week long Disney vacation. I'm talking spending the night in Disney resorts, going to a park every single day, just doing the entire Disney experience with all three of my kids. And Matt. Someone has to hold the baby so I can ride on the rides. But seriously, Matt and I did a park every day for a week long before we got married and it was amazing. Olivia and Jackson have been to Magic Kingdom twice (but only remember it once), and I'd like to go when Penelope is 4. So that means I have about 3 1/2 years to plan this out and make it happen financially. 

What's on your bucket list? What should I do that I haven't included? 


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Being a great mom leads you to heat exhaustion.

I have all kinds of things to blog about, but this week is looking terrible and it's only Tuesday. The quick and dirty? I took Olivia to see One Direction with my mom on Sunday. She had a really wonderful time at her second concert ever!

We ended up having to sit in the sun for hours and it hovered right around 90 degrees the entire time.  By the time I got home, around 1:00 am, I was so exhausted, dizzy, puking, and had a headache. I assumed it was because I had a long day.Turns out, heat exhaustion is totally real and it totally sucks. Admittedly, I have never been drunk or have had a hangover (because I don't drink at all, ever) but Matt assures me it feels similar.

Which begs the question: who does this willingly? What is WRONG with you?

Anyways. I begged him to call in to work because literally, I couldn't do anything. I threw up so much yesterday, had the worst headache, and almost fell down the stairs twice because I was so dizzy. I did rest a bunch yesterday but today? I still feel like crap.

Unfortunate, because today I am driving down to the Twin Cities again, this time to take my kids to Como Zoo and then see my brother, my sister in law, and their cute little baby. My mom is coming with me but still. I am definitely not feeling 100% and of course, it's supposed to be in the high 80's while we're there. It's almost 6:30 in the morning, I've already got a headache and I'm so tired I can't think. If it wasn't so hard to plan a day to meet up with them, I'd cancel and go a different day. But I've got things going on every other day the rest of summer (literally) so it's today or no day.

Should be super.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Try it Sunday: Pot Roast you can't screw up

Each Sunday I'm linking up with Stacey for her recipe linkup. 
Best recipes of the week link party

Hello, lambs! Welcome to another edition of Try it Sunday!

This week we are making Pot Roast. I'll confess to you I have absolutely never, ever made a pot roast in an oven. I have always done it in a slow cooker and it works so well I'll never change my ways. Normally I make this a lot in the winter but Matt requested it and truly, it's not that expensive to make and it's EASY.

Admission: this is a recipe I found off of Pinterest a few years ago and it's kind of been my go to. Traditionally, I use an onion soup mix but this tastes so much better.

 My basic ingredients is a boneless roast, a packet of brown gravy, a packet of ranch dressing, and a packet of italian dressing. I also include an onion, and sometimes I'll throw in some carrots if I have some left over from a salad or just for snacking, and sometimes I throw in potatoes.
I put my roast into the slow cooker and toss in my onions (and carrots and potatoes if  you have them), and I sprinkle a bunch of cracked black pepper over it. I have a steak seasoning blend I bought on a whim and I used that this time and it was great. 

Next I put about a cup of water in a measuring cup and add all three packets. I mix as well as I can, but it looks kind of disgusting and questionable.
Just pour that over your roast. I started mine around 9 am and it was maybe only half thawed out (I had my roast in the fridge over night) and cooked it on low until about 5:30. Once it hits 8 hours in my slow cooker, it automatically goes to a "warm" setting and that's just fine. 

This is what it'll look like at the end. Normally if I'm making mashed potatoes for Matt, I'll take some of this liquid and mix with some flour on the stove to make a gravy. I didn't this time because we weren't having mashed potatoes, but it does make a good gravy. 

Instead we had green beans from my in-law's garden and some pasta side dish that was on sale for $.55 at the grocery store. The best thing is that this pot roast makes an excellent sandwich the next day as leftovers!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Caged Magic

EEP! Book review time! And what a book review to end the week on, that's for stinking sure!



Caged Magic - Jennifer Lyon
Caged Magic (Wing Slayer Hunters #5)
Risa Faden is a witch whose ultra-powerful shield magic is slowly breaking her mind. But when her beloved goddaughter is snatched by a demon, she’ll risk anything to rescue the baby—including lying to the handsome, intriguing stranger who has the power to help her keep her sanity, save the child…and steal her heart.

Linc Dillinger is a Wing Slayer Hunter whose sexy, rich, bad-boy charm hides a treacherous betrayal that left him emotionally scarred. As a result he risks his life to protect innocents, but is incapable of love—until he meets a beautiful witch who can save his cursed soul. Risa’s fierce courage and loyalty reaches past his barriers and he begins to believe she has the magic to free his caged heart.

But Risa’s lie explodes into dark danger that forces Linc into a hellish high-stakes gamble: He must either win the witch he loves and her godchild…or endure a loss that will destroy them all.
 


First and foremost, I haven't read the others in this series and I really wish I had. This is number five, and it isn't crucial to the story if you haven't read the previous ones. I am just in love with this book, and now this series, that I'm all in. I have to get the others to catch up and I'm so excited to see what happens with the rest of the series. 

But this is the story of a witch named Risa who is essentially saved by a Wing Slayer Hunter named Linc. As it turns out, they are soul-mirrors, which is basically like soul mates but far more. Once they bond their individual abilities are far more enhanced and then together they become a pretty formidable unit. Of course, both come with a boatload of baggage and while their relationship is based on a bunch of lies and half truths, you root for them the entire time because Risa deserves to not be a piece of sexual meat and Linc needs a good lady to love him. Throw in a whole bunch of danger, demons, hell fire, and nobody being able to find the damn kid, and it makes for a great book you really can't put down. 

My only complaints are that some of the magical aspect is hard to follow. I'm all for detail and having a great back story into how the magic works, but some of it felt over my head despite it being pure fiction. Secondly, some passages/story lines are kind of drawn out. Like I could easily edit down a few things to shorten the book and you wouldn't feel like you've lost any kind of story. It comes in at 289 pages in my e-reader and that seemed a bit long. But even though it was long, it was still hard to put down. I had no problem whizzing through this in two days of interrupted reading, and like I said above, it was written well enough that I really want to be more invested into this series. So I'm going to have to give it a solid 4 out of 5 stars. Truly. 

An excerpt, just for you: 
Linc reached across the bathroom, catching her hand. His warm, firm fingers anchored her. Startled, she lifted her gaze to him.


“Come here, Risa.”


She started to shake her head, but pain pierced her skull. She hadn’t recovered yet. It would take hours of sleep to regain some strength.


“Here’s the thing. If you want your high magic, you’re going to have to learn my touch is not like the others. I am not just making use of your body.” He squeezed her hand reassuringly. “Not while I still have a soul. We clear?”


She resisted for a second longer, searching over him with her gaze. When he showed her this kindness, acting as if he cared enough to get to know and understand her, it opened her up, left her too vulnerable.


“Take the first step. That’s all you have to do.” His voice flowed smoothly to wrap around her like a silky ribbon. Her chakras relaxed, and her muscles unlocked.

She took the step.


And won a smile from him. His face softened, a dent forming in his chin while his eyes crinkled. This wasn’t Linc’s charming smile, the one he tossed off with his fast and glib comebacks. That smile had polish.


This one was real, sexy, and made her feel like smiling back. Unsure what to do, she just stood there, staring at the amazing grin on his face.


He reached out, caught her waist and tugged her between his thighs. He tucked her beneath one arm, surrounding her with his body heat. 
Caged Magic Buy Links


About the Author

Jennifer Lyon, who also writes as Jennifer Apodaca, lives in Southern California where she continually plots ways to convince her husband that they should get a dog. After all, they met at the dog pound, fell in love, married and had three wonderful sons. So far, however, she has failed in her doggy endeavor. She consoles herself by pouring her passion into writing books. To date, Jen has published more than fifteen books and novellas, including a fun and sexy mystery series and a variety of contemporary romances under the name Jennifer Apodaca. As Jennifer Lyon she created a dark, sizzling paranormal series, and The Plus Once Chronicles, an emotionally sensual adult contemporary series. Jen’s won numerous awards and had her books translated into multiple languages, but she still hasn’t come up with a way to persuade her husband that they need a dog.


Giveaway
There are 3 tour wide giveaways!
Open to US, CAN, UK
(1) grand prize $50.00 electronic gift card (Amazon or B&N)
(2) runner up winners of one $25.00 electronic gift card each (Amazon or B&N)


Follow the Tour

For more interviews and guest posts with Jennifer plus Caged Magic reviews & Spotlights stop by the tour every day!


The complete schedule can be found HERE!

Lions in the Garden : Cover Reveal



Title: Lions in the Garden
Author: Chelsea Luna
Publisher: Lyrical Press

Prague, 1610

Ludmila Novakova–Mila–has barely set foot outside Prague Castle in her seventeen years. But with the choice between braving the bandits and wolves of Bohemia’s uneasy roads or being married off to a disgusting old baron, she’s taken what she can carry and fled.

Escape won’t be easy. Even Mila has heard the rumors of a rebellion coming against the court. The peasants are hungry. The king hasn’t been seen in months. Mila’s father, the High Chancellor, is well known and well hated.

But Mila can’t sit behind a stone wall and let fear force her into a life of silk gowns and certain misery. Her mother’s death has taught her that much. She has one ally: Marc, the son of the blacksmith. A commoner, a Protestant–and perhaps a traitor, too. But the farther she gets from the castle, the more lies she uncovers, unraveling everything she thought she knew. And the harder it is to tell friend from enemy–and wrong from right . . .


Lions in the Garden is available for pre-order at: 

Add it to your Goodreads list HERE


Chelsea Luna is the author of over eight novels and counting, including two bestselling young adult series — the New England Witch Chronicles Series (4 books) and Love & the Zombie Apocalypse Trilogy.  Chelsea received a Juris Doctorate from New York Law School in New York, New York in 2007, and a B.A. in Sociology, with a concentration in Criminal Justice, from the University of Tennessee in 2004.

Visit Chelsea’s website
Connect with Chelsea on Facebook and Twitter

Thursday, July 23, 2015

A week of Penelope: week 11

Actually, if we are getting technical, she is 12 weeks this week, but these photos are from last week. As my friend Shirley would say, the end of two months old is when the unicorn glitter has pretty much worn off. We are seeing some personality beyond the "I'm super cute, just squeeze and kiss me all day". She still wants those things but honestly, this kid is heavy. We've got to be pushing 15 pounds and while this isn't much to carry from the trunk of your car to the house, hauling this around all day with one arm is heavy. You'd think by now I'd have some guns for arms but no. Granted, I'm not as flappy so there is that.

Although she has excellent head control, we still do tummy time because she has to learn how to roll.
This is basically what she thinks about it. She's not pleased.
Some days (just kidding, MOST days), 5:15 p.m. is the most glorious time of the day. Matt gets home then and Penelope knows that means she gets passed to him. He will feed her as soon as he gets home and she will almost certainly pass out on his chest. I maybe have struggled all damn day to get her to nap in her crib (she will not break me, dammit!) but it all goes to hell because he falls asleep on the couch with her as I cook dinner. It's kind of adorable, and I hate myself the next day when she somehow thinks that's what I'll do all day with her.
I found a used jumperoo on a Facebook sale page and after cleaning it and managing to get the seat cover (on my OWN, folks) off to wash (and subsequently back on, on my OWN), we gave it a test spin.
She pretty much loves it.
Enough where I've been able to consistently eat either breakfast or lunch (but not both, she will not stand for two meals in a day under her regime). She doesn't fully understand how to reach for the toys attached to it, so I've put her favorite ball on some linky doo's in there and she basically holds that and licks it while standing there. Whatever, I'll take it. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

How to save on your grocery bill AND meal planning for dummies

I know this is a day late, but it's such a good post and it's going to be super helpful for you so I wanted to make sure I had enough photos to show you the way I do it so you aren't confused at all.

Currently, I am not working. I haven't worked since the end of March so we have been relying on Matt's paycheck to get by. Matt's job pays him twice a month, he isn't bi-weekly, he is paid strictly on the 7th and the 21st of the month, no matter what. Which sounds super, to have a guaranteed pay day! But when you look at the calendar, some months this really sucks. Like July/August for example. Matt's pay periods run from the 1-15 of the month gets him paid on the 21st, and the the 16-last day of the month gets him paid on the 7th. Well he got paid July 21 and won't get a check until August 7, and when you look at that, it's a LONG haul.

Which makes meal planning crucial because it keeps our grocery bill down. Currently, I'm cooking meals for 4 people. Matt and I typically either have left overs or sandwiches for lunch, and the kids almost always have a sandwich. Right now we are taking advantage of free lunches and snack at the park, but that ends August 7. And really, that hasn't cut down on our grocery bill because I'm still buying sandwich things anyways, but it's a nice option to have if available to you.

I know I have had many people say to me, "I don't know what I'm going to want to eat on a particular day a week from now" when I mention meal planning as a great way to get your grocery bill down. To that I say- learn. Seriously. If you are in a position that you have to budget, learn. Secondly, you don't necessarily have to do that. Here's how I do it:

When you come to my house you will see a packet like this hanging on my fridge. It's my meal plan and any recipes I'll need (if it's a new recipe I'm trying or one I can't remember off the top of my head) all together on the side of the fridge.
Step One: When I plan my meals out, I write down every day I need to have a meal for between Matt's pay checks. You can see here that it's basically three weeks of meals. I only include dinners because for breakfast I always have cereal but also keep a hot option like waffles or pancakes in my freezer. I write down a meal idea for every single day. In the morning, I pick a meal off of the list for dinner, not necessarily the one "scheduled" for that day. Some times something comes up and I need a crock pot meal so I find one off the list I can quickly do and not worry about it during a busy day.

Other tricks I do? At least once in a cycle I do a spaghetti and use the left over sauce for meatball subs the next day. Sometimes I'll make chicken tacos and we'll have nachos the next night with my leftover chicken, and I'll add corn and beans to it. Be realistic, if you know there is going to be a day where you declare you absolutely are not cooking? Put "order out" on there, knowing you can only order out ONCE in that cycle. (You see that? I just saved you money.)
Step Two: As I add an item to my menu, I write down the ingredients I'll need to make it. Don't even THINK about what you have on hand already, we'll get to that. But for right now, write down every single thing you'll need.
Step Three: Once you have that completed, take your list and go through your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry. Cross off what you already have. This will save you money because you won't buy repeat things.
Step Four: Then I go through my ad. Usually I peek at the ad first primarily to check if there is any good deals in the meat department because that's often the most expensive area. Yes, those are ads from two different stores. Yes, I know it's a pain in the ass to go to two different stores, but if there is a really fantastic deal on a couple of things at one store, split your trip. Sometimes Cub Foods had a buy one/get one deal on chicken breasts and when that is happening I go and bring Matt and the kids with me. I'll make Olivia buy 4 packs of chicken (the limit), Matt buy 4 packs of chicken, and I'll buy 4 packs of chicken. I have a chest freezer and that's when I stock up.

Step Five: Once I get my coupons from the ad, I start looking online for coupons on the items I need. Truly, the only two sites I really use are Coupons.com and Krazycouponlady.com. Sometimes I find no coupons, sometimes I find a bunch I need. Don't forget to look at your ads at the things that are already on sale without a coupon. This week I was able to get mayonnaise (the large jar) for only $1.33 because it was on sale for $3.33, but I had a $2 coupon online.

Lucky for me this week Super One Foods had a lot of buy one get one deals so I did all of my shopping there. Things I picked up extra as buy one/get one deals that were not on my list were:

  • Quilted Northern 6 packs of toilet paper
  • Kielbasa
  • Marinated pork roasts
  • Packaged deli meat
  • Soft taco shells
  • Taco seasoning
  • Purex laundry soap
I also picked up two packs of pork chops that were in the marked down area of the meat department. That will save me on my menu planning for next round. 

After purchasing everything on my list, plus my extras, my bill was $125.49. 

My absolute budget per month for groceries is $300 for a family of 4. I budget $150 per paycheck to groceries, so the extra $25 went into my savings for Olivia's braces. 

Every Sunday I'll be posting recipes that I've tried from cookbooks, Pinterest, etc that are inexpensive to make. If you missed my first post, Macaroni & Cheese, go back and check that out. Next Sunday I'll be sharing my Pot Roast recipe that is so easy and SO good. 

Best Mom EVER.

Back when I was the cutest seven  year old you had ever seen, my uncle Ron won tickets to see the New Kids on the Block off of the radio. (That maybe dates me there because does the radio have contests to win tickets anymore??) Anyways. I remember being dropped off with my mom to the concert in Tampa, Florida and it was just deafening. I knew right away that I was not wearing enough neon colors and my hair was not high enough. I was wearing the stone wash jeans and that redeemed me, but still.

It was my first concert ever and it was an experience.

Sure, we were in nosebleeds. Sure, we were maybe deaf for a day or two after. But it was totally worth it.

Now with my own daughter (I have two, that still feels weird to say), I always wanted to go to concerts with her because it's my favorite thing to do. Last year, I took her to her very first one and we saw Katy Perry. That was such a great show and a really great first concert.

This year I've been struggling what to get her for her birthday (she turns 10 in September) and my goal is to get her tickets to see Ed Sheeran in September, but right now I'm too broke for that. But on a total whim, I was just looking at the Groupon page for Minneapolis and I see.... tickets for $25 a seat for the One Direction concert.

No, I am not even kidding. There are seats available on Ticketmaster but they are well over $100 a seat. So I clearly bought three tickets (one for me, one for Olivia, and one for my mom) and we are going. This Sunday.

I may come home deaf. I'll no doubt be exhausted as hell on Monday. But it'll be totally worth it. Olivia will have a great time.

Now, excuse me as I brush up on my One Direction lyrics. 

BEST MOM EVER. 

The Naked Eye

So many reviews for you coming up!! At this rate, your to-read list is going to dramatically increase. Sorry, friends.

The Naked Eye - Iris Johansen & Roy Johansen
The Naked Eye (Kendra Michaels, #3)
The #1 New York Times bestselling author and the Edgar Award winning author are back with a new a new novel featuring Kendra Michaels—hired gun for both the CIA and FBI.

It’s been four months since the events of SIGHT UNSEEN, and Kendra Michaels is obsessed with trying to track down serial killer Eric Colby. Despite his apparent execution at San Quentin, Kendra is convinced that Colby is still alive. The trouble is, she can’t prove it. Even her razor-sharp powers of observation, honed while blind during the first twenty years of her life, have gotten her nowhere. So no one believes her.

Then out of the blue she gets a call from the Sheriff of Olancha, California, about a young woman being held on a drunk and disorderly charge who lists Kendra as her emergency contact. It’s Eve Duncan’s sister, Beth Avery, who after being wrongfully institutionalized for five years has been living on the road and trying to figure out her life. Kendra can identify, having gone through a similar period of self-discovery after gaining her sight, and she takes Beth home to San Diego with her.

But the murder of a police detective who had once very openly crossed swords with Kendra is about to complicate her life even further. She visits the crime scene in search of anything that might provide a link to Colby and instead finds evidence that links the crime to her. Finally Colby’s master plan becomes clear: he is framing Kendra for a brutal cop-killing.

Suspicions mount along with the body count, and Kendra is thrust into spine-tingling pursuit to clear her name and find the killer no one believes exists anymore. Beth joins her on her quest, and agent-for-hire Adam Lynch soon follows. And they get help from another friend anxious to repay her debt to Kendra… none other than Eve Duncan herself.


Full disclosure, this is the third book in this series and while some say it can be a stand alone, I am telling you to read books one and two first. I didn't, and I wish I had. Yes, there is some "catch up" passages so you get a really quick run down of the previous two stories, but I feel like I would have been more invested in Kendra had I read the other two first. (I've since read them, equally good as this one.)

So the story is of Kendra, someone who was previously blind for many years, who uses her skills to assist law enforcement with crimes, primarily murders. The first two books has her chasing down serial killer Eric Colby, and in book three, he's presumed dead to everyone except for Kendra. She is absolutely convinced he somehow escaped execution and it's only a matter of time before he comes back. She knows if he comes back he will be after her because it was her that essentially landed him in prison awaiting execution. Right away, Kendra is called to the scene of a murder where it becomes obvious she is consumed by Eric Colby. She's hyper-sensitive to anything that could show a sign of his return and people are worried for her, primarily her mental health. 

It isn't until the murder of a reporter who made Kendra's life a living hell winds up murdered that Kendra thinks this may be it. Instead of finding clues to find Colby and really bring him to justice this time, everything points to Kendra as being the actual murderer. It's easy enough for police to make the assumption that Kendra killed the reporter as revenge, and Kendra finds herself losing supporters quickly. The only thing Kendra can hope for is that the clues only she sees (the ones others disregard outright) will be enough to catch Colby in the end. 

Overall? I'd say 4 out of 5 stars. It started a little slow for me, but it quickly picks up to be a pretty solid thriller. I do highly recommend you read the first two books before this one, but even still, I enjoyed this one a lot. It's a great read to occupy your time while your husband tries to bore you to death with his Star Trek re-runs. Oy. The Naked Eye is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Happy reading! 

Monday, July 20, 2015

Weekend was rough.

But hey, it's Monday, how bad can today really be?!

I say it EVERY year, I will not do another yard sale ever again. EVER. Seriously, ever again. Then the next summer comes around and I see all of this crap accumulating and I think, I could sell this all on Facebook.

Then you remember that half of the time people are no-shows and the thought of driving to various meeting places all over town is a nightmare. The next option is to put all of the crap you no longer want onto various tables and things you're pretending are tables and hoping people buy your crap. This year my mom and I were at it again and it's like it all came back to us why we hate it.

The days leading up to the sale were stressful. My house was a disaster.

I ate a lot of this to get myself through it. 

Then it comes to be sale day and I realize that I am going to have to entertain my two big kids and a not-quite-three-month old baby for 8 hours, in a yard, while selling our crap. I had no plan and honestly, that wasn't even that bad. It really wasn't.

The worst is seeing the cheapest jerks ever trying to screw you even more. I had tons of really nice kids clothes, with tags on them, priced at $.50. You can't buy brand new jeans for $.50 but wouldn't you know, there is always some asshole saying, "Would you take a quarter?". No. No I will not because as you can see from the TAG STILL ATTACHED, those were $36, you can absolutely pay the $.50. Jerk.

I also remembered that somehow, my mom and I attract the strangest people. My mom actually abandoned me in the middle of a story this strange girl was telling me about her teddy bears and how they really do walk around her house at night and that's why she's buying dishes, because they need the dishes. Whatever. I don't care if you or the bears are using them, take your new set of dishes and get out of the yard. No, I don't care to see your toe infection.

Contrary to popular belief, I'm not always an asshole. I really do feel bad for people and I'm genuinely too damn nice for my own good. It never works out for me.

Meanwhile, after two days of yard sale glory, I came home exhausted. Not only was I tired, but the kids were as well. None of us were at our best when we came home, so when I told Jackson we absolutely were not going to watch movies on the couch but in fact, we were going to all go to bed early because the spontaneous crying was too much.

I found this on my dresser when I went to bed.
Now, I need to mention this is the SECOND time I've seen this note. The first time it appeared was after I said we absolutely cannot do water balloons in the house. Even in the bathroom. I was going to keep it for hilarious memories someday but it disappeared. I assumed Matt threw it away.

Oh no.

Jackson clearly took it back, he presumably got happy, and this has made a triumphant return.

Needless to say, he was out like a light by 7 pm Saturday night so clearly he was over tired.

Sunday wasn't much better. Both kids have all of a sudden gotten this weird entitlement thing where they think they are too good to have dinner at home. Now granted, I haven't cooked much this week. It's been too hot, I've been exhausted digging things out of closets, the basement, and the garage for the yard sale, and I'm over it. Totally over it. We've had sandwiches or cereal basically every night. Now they are demanding we go out to eat.

Fools.

I have half a mind to give them hot dogs every day and make a real dinner for Matt and I just to be a jerk. I vaguely remember their behavior go downhill as summer winds down. Which scares me considering all of our fun family things are happening in the next month or so, so they can either go really well or really terribly. I'm not going to mention that to Matt otherwise he'll cancel it all and it's really me being punished. HA!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Try It Sunday: Macaroni & Cheese

When it comes to food, I am literally the pickiest eater. People cook to accommodate children, but I cook to accommodate myself. Often times I'll cook something which everyone else eats and I'm sitting there with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich because I may be 33 but I am a child.

But one thing I absolutely love is macaroni & cheese. I have tried lots of different versions, but this is one of my favorites. It's absolutely creamy and you can literally feel your thighs get larger but who cares. This recipe is originally from this blog if you want to see nicer pictures than mine.

Macaroni & Cheese
3 cups of elbow mac
6 tbsp flour
6 tbsp butter
3 cups of milk
pinch of salt
pinch of sugar
1 pound of Velveeta, cubed
2/3 cup of sour cream (I used a 1/3 cup because Matt ate the rest. Jerk.)
1 1/3 cup of small curd cottage cheese
3 cups of cheddar cheese, shredded
2 cups of mozzarella cheese, shredded

It's an easy recipe that just requires a LOT of stirring. First, you make a roux with your butter and flour. Just be careful you don't burn your flour because I've done that before and it's gross. After that's done, add your milk. You HAVE to stir it until it's like a thick gravy. Mine didn't get as thick as I thought it was going to, and it turned out fine. Then add your salt, sugar, and Velveeta.

*pro tip: cube your Velveeta small, otherwise that crap takes forever to melt.

After that's melted, put the cottage cheese and sour cream in, and stir until melted.

 It looks like this and your elbow will hurt.

Then you have to get the largest bowl you own. Put your cooked macaroni in the bowl, pour the cheese mixture in, and then put your shredded cheese in. Stir like crazy.

*pro tip: only cook your noodles until they are half done, otherwise they get mushy in the oven. Blech.

You now have to pour it into a 9x13 pan you've greased. I will say that it came to the VERY TIPPY TOP of my pan, so I had to put that onto a cookie sheet to bake. It also still bubbled over so thank goodness I did that.
If you want to put a crunchy top, you can smash up some crackers and mix with melted butter and sprinkle on. I actually forgot to do that and it was fine. Bake at 350 for about an hour.

Oh, you wanted a finished picture of the dish? Well, next time I'll totally do that. We literally ate this entire pan in one dinner. Except for Olivia because she is weird and refuses to eat anything with melted cheese. Cripes, even I eat melted cheese.

This comes out incredibly creamy. I think it tastes like a better version of those little frozen macaroni & cheese pot pies you get for cheap at the grocery store. Matt says that's dumb, but whatever. I lived off those in college so that basically makes me an expert.

If YOU have a favorite recipe, join us at the link party! I'll be playing along each Sunday. Stay tuned for a really great post on Tuesday, July 21 about how to save big on your grocery bill!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Deal

Last week I talked about The Bookworm Box monthly subscription (click HERE if you missed that), and one of the books I received in my box was this one. The greatness of the book is probably what's going to keep my subscription going.

The Deal (Off-Campus Book One) - Elle Kennedy
The Deal (Off-Campus, #1)
She’s about to make a deal with the college bad boy... 

Hannah Wells has finally found someone who turns her on. But while she might be confident in every other area of her life, she’s carting around a full set of baggage when it comes to sex and seduction. If she wants to get her crush’s attention, she’ll have to step out of her comfort zone and make him take notice... even if it means tutoring the annoying, childish, cocky captain of the hockey team in exchange for a pretend date. 

...and it’s going to be oh so good. 

All Garrett Graham has ever wanted is to play professional hockey after graduation, but his plummeting GPA is threatening everything he’s worked so hard for. If helping a sarcastic brunette make another guy jealous will help him secure his position on the team, he’s all for it. But when one unexpected kiss leads to the wildest sex of both their lives, it doesn't take long for Garrett to realize that pretend isn't going to cut it. Now he just has to convince Hannah that the man she wants looks a lot like him.
***

I have to be honest, I wasn't sure how this was going to be. Was it going to be just a regular cocky jock paired with a really stupid nerd, and they'd have sex and all would be swell? Turns out, that's only partly true and it's a rarity coming from me, but none of these characters annoyed me. 

I know. Take that all in, folks. I think we can count on one hand how many times that's happened in the last year. 

It's true! I really loved Hannah. Sure, she has some serious issues related to a high school trauma, but she's not the "my life is totally ruined and nobody could ever love me" girl. She's practical, she knows what the recovery is like and while she still has some hang ups (rightfully so), so knows that she has to work through them and she makes an active effort to do that. Then we have Garrett, who comes off initially as the dumb jock (literally) and you want to hate him because we all know the dumb jock from some point in our life who just has it all and nobody knows why. Thankfully, Garrett isn't this way once you get to know him. He's ambitious, he has goals,  he also has a traumatic past but he genuinely is a great guy. 

And I love Hannah and Garrett together SO MUCH. The book starts as him begging her to tutor him after he fails a crucial test in one of their joint classes. She is reluctant because she knows what's she heard about him and has zero time. Ultimately, she agrees because he makes her an offer she can't refuse. While tutoring, they get to know each other more and it becomes a case of friendship maybe turning into something more. 

It also has a heavy hockey theme to it, which I love because I love hockey, so YES. Yes to all of this. It's a steamy book, with college age characters, but it's also a really adorable love story. I love Elle Kennedy's writing style, she's funny and she adds just the right amount of humor in all of the right places. I absolutely loved this book and I'm fully on board with the rest of this series! 

I highly suggest you pick this one up at either Barnes & Noble or Amazon. I am absolutely ordering Elle's other books soon and I'm so excited about that. The Bookworm Box did not fail with this book selection at all!