February 29, 2012

crafting with blendy & becky: birdseed cakes

I found this month's project in my mom's Country Woman magazine. Blendy and I made these cute and easy birdseed cakes while watching the Oscars the other night. (I adapted the recipe from the one found here.)

Step 1: Gather your supplies—bird seed (I picked up a $2 package at Wal-Mart), 2 packages unflavored gelatin (1/2 oz), waxed paper, twine, scissors, mixing bowl and spoon, baking sheet or other flat surface, large cookie cutters (not pictured), 1/2 cup boiling water (not pictured).

Step 2: Cut twine into 14-inch lengths—one for each birdseed cake. Tie ends together to form a loop.

Step 3: Dissolve gelatin in boiling water.

Step 3:  Add 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 cups birdseed to the gelatin and mix well. You can add more birdseed if necessary. (I used 2-1/2 cups—the original recipe calls for 1-1/2.) You want the mixture to be sticky but not soupy.

Step 4: Cover baking sheet with waxed paper. Place cookie cutters on sheet. Fill half full with birdseed mixture and press mixture firmly with spoon.

Step 5: Press the knotted end of the twine into the birdseed. Fill the cookie cutter to the top with birdseed and press mixture firmly.

Step 6: After several hours, gently remove cookie cutters. Allow cakes to dry for 72 hours, flipping once or twice each day.

Step 7: Once cakes are completely dry, hang for the birds to enjoy! (And no, my butterfly cake isn't deformed ... it was windy and cold outside, the butterfly was swaying in the breeze, and I only had the patience to take one picture.)

Yield: Four large birdseed cakes

This project is really simple, and though it requires some patience while you wait for the birdseed to dry, the actual time spent working on it is less than 30 minutes. I think it's worth it! (Now I just hope I see some birds partaking of their treat!)

we "choose to lose"

Wish us luck. Blendy and I have just begun a diet. It's Chris Powell's carb cycling diet—he's the guy on Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition. Blendy is following a modified version of the diet, but I'm trying to follow it to a "t" (including the recommended exercises) ... for at least a month. Then I'll reevaluate. For now, though, I'm eating lots of chicken, Greek yogurt, and green beans (because that's the only vegetable besides corn that I can handle eating in large quantities, and corn is deemed too starchy for low carb days), and I'm drinking lots of protein shakes. On this diet, one day is a high carb day, and the next is a low carb day. The thing I absolutely love about it is that on high carb days, you can have a cheat meal, where you eat anything you want! Today is a low carb day, so no cheating ... but I'm really looking forward to the asiago steaks Blendy is making for supper!

A friend is following a similar plan and has dropped two pant sizes in just under a month, so I have high hopes for this diet! Even if I don't lose lots of weight, though, I think the diet will be beneficial. After losing 20 pounds two years ago, I went back to my old eating habits and gained back 10 of the 20 pounds. So this should at least help me get my eating under control again!

You can get more information at Chris's website, www.chrispowell.com, or from the book. Like I said at the beginning of this post, wish us luck!

February 22, 2012

happy birthday, blendy!

I don't know how it's possible, but my baby sister is turning 21 today! In honor of this momentous occasion, I thought I'd post a brief retrospective of her life ...
The four siblings. I adored her then, and it shows how much I adore her now
that I'm willing to post this picture from my ugly duckling phase!
Elementary-age Blendy with our Grandpa Roth. 
High School Blendy (on Nations Day of Homecoming Week) with
her friend and fellow Bachelor fan Janae.
This is one of my favorite pictures of the two of us, taken
on our fabulous 2010 road trip adventure!
The three sisters earlier this month in Indiana.
Happy Birthday, Blendy! I love you!

February 21, 2012

media musings

It's time again to catch up on the media I've been consuming ...

The Vow—I saw The Vow opening weekend with my sister and a friend. The story is about a woman (Rachel McAdams) who wakes up from a coma with no recollection of the last five years of her life—which included transforming from a conservative meat-loving law student to a free-spirited vegetarian artist and meeting and marrying an insanely handsome independent recording studio owner (Channing Tatum). It's a sweet love story with an ending I didn't predict. (The plot does bear a resemblance to Susan May Warren's book The Shadow of Your Smile, which I reviewed earlier this year.) Even more heartwarming than the movie, though, it the true story that inspired it. The Vow is very, very loosely based on Kim & Krickitt Carpenter. Reader's Digest wrote about the Carpenters in 1996, and they've reposted the story online. As much as I loved The Vow, I think I would rather have watched a more faithful adaptation of the story. The Carpenters also wrote a book about their experiences, and a new edition has been released to coincide with the film. It's available in paperback or for the Kindle for less than $10. I just ordered my Kindle copy ... I'll be sure to let you know what I think of it when I'm finished reading!

Downton Abbey—SPOILER ALERT! If you're planning to watch Downton Season 2 (or LOST) at some point in the future, you'll want to skip this section.

Downton Abbey had some major missteps this season (can we say burn victim Peter/Patrick; Lord Grantham's dalliance with the maid; and Lavinia, the sweet girl whose presence served only to keep apart Matthew & Mary and who we knew to be doomed from the start?), yet in my opinion, the truly emotionally satisfying ending more than made up for any ridiculousness. I call this the LOST effect. I know legions of LOST fans would disagree, but I found the series finale to be so emotionally satisfying that I could completely forgive the fact that seemingly thousands of questions remained unanswered. That the sideways world turned out to be in essence a purgatory that our Losties created for themselves did not for one second diminish my joy at watching them all discover who they really were and reunite with their loved ones. The same holds true for Downton. Give me one emotional, long-awaited marriage proposal in the snow, and I'll forgive all kinds of melodramatic nonsense. And when the season finale comes packed with so much Maggie Smith goodness, I can't help but love it! (My favorite interchange from the finale—and perhaps the entire season—comes 47 seconds into this video.)

Hulu Plus—Did you know you can now stream Hulu Plus through your Wii? It would be nice if plain old Hulu was available, too, but I guess it makes sense to only have that option for the pay version. Hulu is giving Wii users a two-week free trial to Hulu Plus (others can get a one-week trial), so I decided to check it out. Three days into my trial, I've decided I definitely need to cancel before my credit card gets charged at the end of the two weeks.

Pros: 1. FOX shows are available the day after air, rather than 8 days after air. This isn't a huge deal, I don't like waiting more than a week to watch Fringe episodes. 2. Some shows and movies that aren't available on Netflix are available on Hulu Plus. 3. Hulu Plus has the entire current season of many popular shows.

Cons: 1. Not all shows are available to watch on devices other than a computer. For instance, Psych's current season. 2. Speaking of Psych, Hulu Plus members have to wait 30 days to watch USA shows, just like regular Hulu users do. 3. Ads. That's right, Hulu Plus users still have to watch ads! Remind me again why this costs money?

Do I prefer watching Parks & Rec on my 32-inch HDTV to watching it on my 14-inch laptop screen? Yes. Do I love the (almost) instant gratification of watching Fringe the day after it airs? Of course. But is it worth $7.99 a month to me? Nope.

Netflix—Yes, I'm still a happy Netflix subscriber. And now I'm even happier: I just won a year of Netflix from SingleRoots! (If you aren't familiar with SingleRoots, check them out. I have them linked in my "Blogs Worth Reading" blogroll.) The Starz catalog is set to be removed from Netflix on February 29, but I don't think it will have much of an impact on my Netflix use. (I can't even remember the last time I watched a movie on Netflix ... I almost solely watch TV shows.) A full list of those movies and television shows that will disappear at the end of the month can be found here.

The Bodyguard soundtrack—Fun fact: The Bodyguard was the first R-rated movie I ever saw. Granted, it was on network television in the mid-90's, so it was pretty toned down. I actually got permission from my mom to watch it (which is impressive if you know my history of sneaking to the basement to watch all sorts of things of which she wouldn't approve). Anyway, Whitney Houston's recent death got me thinking about The Bodyguard soundtrack, which was one of my introductory cds when I joined the BMG Music Service in the late 90's. So I dug it out—I'd never bothered to copy it to my iTunes—and listened to it the other night. I'd forgotten just how phenomenal her voice was. Hungry for more Whitney, I headed over to EW.com, where they've put together a playlist of 25 of her best songs. Check it out here.

What media has caught your fancy lately? Now that Downton is over for the season, do you have any other shows—British or otherwise—I should check out?

February 16, 2012

have you said this?

I came across a brilliant video today. Whether you read reviews or write them yourself, you've surely seen some of these phrases. And I must admit, I've used my fair share in my reviews. Enjoy!

February 14, 2012

valentine's day

It's Valentine's Day. As a single woman, I'm supposed to loathe this day, right? Here's the thing, though: I don't. Do I wish that I had a significant other to make this day special? Of course. Do I sometimes fantasize about a secret admirer coming out of the woodwork to profess his love for me on this day of romance? Yes. (However, if this actually happened, I'd probably find myself creeped out beyond belief. It's a nice rom-com scenario, though!) But can I still enjoy this day on my own? Absolutely! I think it helps that I'm not an overly sentimental person. Sure, I have my "God, why am I still single?" moments like everyone else, but they're not usually triggered by Valentine's Day.

Through the years, I've spent Valentine's Day in a variety of ways: judging at a speech meet, going out with friends, watching sappy movies on the Hallmark Channel, and having a special dinner with my family. In fact, special Valentine's Day dinners with my parents and siblings are my favorite Valentine's memories. I remember one year—I think I was in high school at the time—when we all dressed up, used Mom's wedding china, and had steak, mashed potatoes, green beans, red Jello, and red Kool-Aid. My mom did a great job of making Valentine's Day about the love of family, rather than romantic love, and that's a tradition I plan to carry into my future family. (She also liked to give us "Valentine socks"—a tradition I appreciated much more than my sisters did!)

So how will I be spending this Valentine's Day? Well, tonight I'll probably be working with speech kids for a while. And then Blendy is coming over to make me dinner, and we'll play Just Dance and watch Smash. Sounds like a good Valentine's Day to me :-)

In case you'd like a chuckle on the day of love, check out today's post on Stuff Christians Like. And the answer is no—I do not want to be a shipwrecked tentmaker!

Valentine's Day: love it or loathe it? Do you have any special traditions—romantic or not—that you observe?

February 4, 2012

best books of 2011

I intended to post this before the new year ... obviously, I didn't quite make it!

I read a ton of books in 2011. I reviewed 59 of them, and I probably read at least 10 that I didn't review. If you figure an average of 5 hours per book, that comes to a whopping 345 hours—or just more than 14 days! When you read as much as I do, it's hard to remember which books you liked the most. So I've compiled a list of my favorite reads of 2011 in several different categories (some are a bit contrived so that I can include more books). If I reviewed the book, I've included a link. Note that these are books that I read in 2011—they may have been published earlier.

Historical Fiction
Heiress by Susan May Warren (review)—This is my favorite of all of Susan May Warren's books, which is saying something, since I've enjoyed most of her work. I love how real the characters seem, and it's a great mix of high society and the Wild West. (Sounds strange, I know, but Warren makes it work!)

Contemporary (non-Romance) Fiction
The Fine Art of Insincerity by Angela Hunt (review)—This is the story of three sisters who gather to go through their deceased grandmother's things. The Fine Art of Insincerity certainly isn't "fluff"—and the book caused me to think about the way I relate to my sisters.


The Art of Romance by Kaye Dacus (review)—Anyone who's tired of reading about 22-year-old heroines should check out Kaye Dacus's books. She writes about real women. Women who wear a size 14. Women who didn't get married straight out of college. Women who live their lives, rather than waiting around for the "perfect" man. The Art of Romance is the first Dacus book I read, but it won't be the last!

Science Fiction/Fantasy
Forbidden by Ted Dekker & Tosca Lee (review)—Ted Dekker is a masterful fantasy writer. (His crime novels? I could do without those.) The Circle series (and all the other connected books), Immanuel's Veins, and now The Books of Mortals feature well-constructed worlds that sweep the reader into them. Forbidden, the first in The Books of Mortals, is my favorite Dekker book since Black—it's that good! 

Romantic Comedy
Save the Date by Jenny B. Jones (review)—The time I spent reading Save the Date was probably the most fun I had reading all year! One of those implausible yet hilarious stories, Save the Date is pure fluff and pure enjoyment.

YA Fiction
Prom & Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg (review)—It's Pride & Prejudice set in an elite boarding school. Such fun!

Jane Austen Made Me Do It edited by Laurel Ann Nattress—This is the only book on the list I haven't reviewed (though I may still get around to it). It's a series of short stories inspired by Jane Austen's books. Not all of the stories are winners—"Waiting," a continuation of Persuasion, just about put me to sleep—but most are lighthearted and fun.

Growing up Amish by Ira Wagler (review)—Ira Wagler's memoir chronicling his life in and journey out of the Amish church is an incredibly fascinating look at the Amish faith.

Amish Fiction
Beside Still Waters (review) and Along Wooded Paths (review) by Tricia Goyer—In a sea of Amish fiction, Goyer's Big Sky series stands out. First of all, it doesn't idealize the Amish lifestyle. Instead, it features real characters grappling with issues of faith. I can't wait to read the third book this spring!

Indelible by Kristen Heitzmann (review)—A character-driven mystery featuring a protagonist with an eidetic memory. Very interesting and quite suspenseful.

Book I Talked about Most
Longing by Karen Kingsbury (review)—I talked about this book so much because it made me so mad! And now I'm scared to read the final book in this series, Loving, because I just know I'll be really upset if Bailey & Cody don't end up together. Never before have I had such strong feelings for book characters!

The Opposite of Art by Athol Dickson (review)—I'm not even sure how to describe this book, other than to say that it is art in words. It is well worth your time.

Forsaken Kingdom: City of Prophecy by Peter Dudek (review)—In my time as a book blogger, I have read some absolute drek that is self-published. City of Prophecy is not one of those books. If you just picked it up and started reading, you would have no idea it hadn't come out of a traditional publishing house. I really enjoyed this story, and I hope to be able to read the second book in the series soon!

Favorite Book of 2011
Blue Skies Tomorrow by Sarah Sundin (review)—A World War II story with a timely subplot, Blue Skies Tomorrow is absolutely captivating. I completely devoured the book, and I look forward to reading more books by Sundin!

Any thoughts on my picks? What were your favorite books of 2011?

February 2, 2012

it's dc Talk ... sort of!

I love dc Talk. This statement will come as no surprise to anyone who has known me very long. One of the biggest regrets from my teen years is that I never saw dc Talk live, and I've often said that I would travel ridiculous distances and spend insane amounts of money to see them on tour, should they ever decide to reunite. (Seeing them live made my "35 before 35" list—if sheer willpower could make them reunite, they'd be on tour tomorrow!)

So in all my love for dc Talk, I'm not sure how I missed this: The Newsboys released a new album last November, and Kevin Max joins them for two songs! ("God's Not Dead" and "I Am Second") Why is that a big deal? Because Michael Tait is the lead singer of the Newsboys now. When you throw Tait and Kevin Max together, it almost, almost sounds like old-school dc Talk ... all that's missing is tobyMac's rapping!

You can preview the new Newsboys album God's Not Dead here. You can even get a free download of the "God's Not Dead" single! Listen to it and pretend, for an instant, that the whole gang's back together again. And maybe if I keep wishing and hoping, it'll actually happen one day!

February 1, 2012

goals for 2012: january update

Here's the first monthly check-in on my goals for the year. I'm happy to report that things are going fairly well!
  1. Read through the Bible. I am a little behind, which has happened just in the last week. The plan I'm on is set to finish up in September, though, so I have a few days to play with! The problem with this plan is that it's so intense (it takes about 40 minutes to do each day's reading) that catching up is difficult. I'm not sure if I'll ever completely catch up ... but as long as I don't fall far behind, I'll be fine. (And I just discovered that YouVersion has a "catch me up" feature that will change your start and end dates so you don't feel so behind ... so my new end date is September 11.)
  2. Exercise four times per week. This is the one I can't believe that I've kept up with! I am exercising for at least 20 minutes per day about five days per week. I look pretty stupid speed-walking the circle around my kitchen and living room, but it works ... and no one is (usually) here to see me, anyway! (Don't worry, I won't wear a hole through the carpet—I also work out on my elliptical, play Wii Sports, and walk outside when it's nice.) As far as the J-La-Sta 10,000 Steps Walking Challenge goes, I had no idea how hard it was to get to 10,000 steps each day! I've logged 140,533 steps in the challenge so far ... and I'm determined to make February more successful than January.
  3. Lose 30 pounds. Um, yeah. Early on in the month I'd lost two pounds, but I've ended the month right where I started it. So I need to work harder here!
  4. Travel somewhere new. I'm going to Chicago and Indiana this weekend ... but I've been there before. So no progress here.
  5. Complete one crafting project a month. Done! I didn't do the one I'd planned (still going to do it or something like it later). Instead, I put nail polish on my keys. See my post about it here
  6. Learn to say "no." Still learning. I did pass on a whole slew of book review opportunities this month. And I decided not to join another Bible study at church after my current one ends—because I have two other Bible studies I'll be involved in! 
If you set goals for the year, how are you doing with them after one month?

the. best. news.

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about Taylor Swift being offered the role of Eponine in the Les Misérables movie. Tonight, Les Mis fans breathed a collective sigh of relief—Swift will not be playing Eponine. (OK, so I didn't sigh so much as clap and cheer ...) Instead, the role has gone to Samantha Barks, who played Eponine in the 25th Anniversary Concert in 2010. She will be fabulous!  

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