Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Well

I received this book as a First Reads giveaway in exchange for my review.  I have to admit that from the title (The Well: What Happens When the Mind Releases and the Heart Sustains) I was thinking
that this may be some sort of spiritual or self help book.  Normally I would shy away from that sort of thing but for some reason, I thought what the heck and pushed enter on the giveaway anyway.  I have been trying to branch out of my comfort zone in reading more and man am I glad that I did.

This book was unlike anything I have ever read before.  It is based around the character of Grace who is an elderly woman currently in a coma in a nursing home.  She is watched over and talked to often by her daughter and other family members as they try to make peace with her impending death.  However you get to see inside of Grace's mind and into this whole other "dream world" that she has started creating for herself.  There is a Well within this dream world that puzzles Grace and allows her to hear people talking to her in her comatose state when she sits by it.

I don't want to give anything away but this book was written in a genius manner.  At first you could tell from Grace's manner of speaking that her education level was somewhat lacking and it was a little hard to get into it, but as she grew in this dream world, her knowledge and speaking even grew with her.  It was amazing to see Grace grow as a character and have epiphany-like character development while in a comatose state in her mind and soul.  The family members and Grace all become real people as you read about them and you can feel that you are right there with them and connecting with them.

This book seems short in page numbers, but is long in lessons and growth and learning for everyone who is a part of the story!  The way that the author (Colleen Golden) has written this book about someone on life support and the family around them was pure genius!  I have never previously read a book that would look at this sort of an issue and create a story around it in such an amazing way.  Collen was NOT in any way afraid to touch on sensitive and possibly painful issues that may cause lesser authors to skirt around.  Colleen touched upon these issues with grace and tact, letting you feel that realism of the issue without overdoing it or shoving it in your face.  Given her background as a clinical neuropsychologist, I think that she was more than qualified to tackle the issues within this novel.  I loved her take on these issues and the way she portrayed this large and branched out family.  I was admittedly hoping for a different outcome but actually preferred the way that she ended the story with more of a realistic and hopeful take. 

The only negative thing that I can really say about this book is that although we got to know so many family members so well I felt that the story didn't delve deep enough into Grace's actual children and background stories, and I would have liked to have gotten to know them a bit better.  All in all I have to say that I highly recommend this book  It is written in a way that would appeal to many different kinds of readers and makes it easy for you to connect to the characters.  I give the book 5 out of 5 stars and commend Colleen Golden on such great story telling skills! 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

DIY: Toddler Crafts Part 5

As we are nearing the end of the month I thought it was time to throw out some new toddler DIY activities!  I hope you enjoy them I have spent a lot of time scouring the Internet for some great new ideas we haven't used before.  Please feel free to submit any of your ideas that you may have for future blogs.

Rainbow Bubble Snake

It's fun, it's easy and it's bubbles, Liam will love it!

Empty Water Bottle
Duct Tape or Rubber Band
Dish Soap
Food Coloring

Start by cutting the bottom of the water bottle off.  Next slide the sock over the bottom of the bottle. You can  use duct tape or a rubber band to secure the sock. Pour some dish soap into a shallow container with a little bit of water and gently mix.  Dip the sock covered bubble blower into the solution and gently blow.  If you want to add some color you can drop the food coloring onto the sock. 
Please remind your kids to blow air out not suck air in!  If your child sucks in, they will be eating bubbles.  Please be careful when doing this with your kids.  My kids had a blast playing with these bubble snakes.  We did not have any trouble with the kids inhaling, but I have had a few readers mention that their younger kids needed continual reminders.  The fun will quickly end if the bubbles are inhaled!

Liquid Sidewalk Chalk

Sidewalk Chalk is so fun and messy for outside play, this looks like a great one to try.

1 Cup Water
1 Cup Cornstarch
Muffin Tin
Food Coloring

Mix the water and cornstarch and then pour into a muffin tin or small cups.  Add food coloring to make the colors.  Now paint.

 Homemade Lava Lamp

I LOVE lava Lamps, so this is one I definitely want to try

Empty Water Bottle
Food Coloring
Vegetable Oil
Alka Seltzer

Fill each bottle about 2/3 with the oil.  Fill the rest of the way with water leaving about an inch of air to the top.  Add 10 drops of food coloring.  Break the Alka Seltzer into 4 pieces.  Drop the pieces in one at a time.  *Wait until the bubbles stop before adding in another piece or it will start to get cloudy.  

Pasta & Beads Bracelets

Yay, we can finally use our Kool-Aid Dyed Pasta for fun :)

Pipe Cleaners
Pony Beads

Start off with a loop fastened at the bottom of the pipe cleaner there is an end to catch the beads as you work.  Bead the pipe cleaners to make their bracelets! This activity also works on fine motor skills too: fitting the beads on the pipe cleaners.  Once you are about 3/4 of the way up the pipe cleaner, take the end of the pipe cleaner through the hole to latch them together and weave the excess pipe cleaner through the last bead.

If you would like to see the past DIY activities that we have completed together, check them out here:

Penguin Activity Game

Kool-Aid Dyed Pasta

Cardboard Owls

Alphabet Train

Make Your Own Rainstorm

Orange Sugar Scrub

Meditation Bottle

Monday, April 28, 2014

Monster's University

I have been wanting to see Monster's University since I first heard that they were making it.  I was definitely more excited to watch it than Liam (my 3 year old son) was.  He is never too keen on watching new things until you convince him to give it a try.  I definitely enjoyed the movie although it seemed almost more geared towards adults than children.  I would have liked to have seen more of little Mikey and added some of little Sully.  But as always there were some great lessons to be learned for older kids.

In case you know nothing about Monster's University it is a 2013 Computer animated 3D comedy children's film.  It is the prequel to the 2001 movie Monster's Inc.  It is the first prequel that Pixar has created to date and was their 14th full-length film.  This returns to our two friends Mike & Sully before they met when they were both studying at Monster's University to become the top scarers.  They start the movie out as rivals. 

It was produced by Pixar and released by Disney.  Disney had plans to make a sequel to Monster's Inc since 2005 but due to disagreements with Pixar, they tasked their Circle 7 Animation studio to make it.  An early draft of the film was worked on but with the purchase of Pixar by Disney in 2006 it put that film away.  A Pixar made sequel was confirmed in 2010, but they decided on making a Prequel instead in 2011.  Overall the film received positive reviews and was a box office success grossing $743 million against a $200 million budget.  The original sequel was set to come out in early November 2012 but had to be preponed due to coinciding with The Twilight Saga-Breaking Dawn Part 2.  One a prequel was decided on, it pushed everything back to 2013.

Monster's University features a wonderful voice acting cast to include:
Micheal "Mike" Wazowski-Billy Crystal (When Harry Met Sally, Analyze This, City Slickers)
James P. Sullivan "Sully"-John Goodman (Roseanne, Argo, Community, Saturday Night Live)
Randall "Randy" Boggs-Steve Buscemi (Reservoir Dogs, ConAir, Boardwalk Empire, 30 Rock)
Dean Hardscrabble-Helen Mirren (Red, The Queen, State of Play, Teaching Mrs. Tingle)
Done-Joel Murray (Mad Men, Two and a Half Men, Shameless, Dharma & Greg, Still Standing)
Terri-Sean Hayes (Will & Grace, Sean Saves the World)
Terry-Dave Foley (Hot in Cleavland, Dan Vs, How to Be A Gentleman, Will & Grace)
Art-Charlie Day (It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Horrible Bosses, Pacific Rim, Third Watch)

Overall I have to say that this was a good standalone film.  When you compare it with it's predecessor Monster's Inc. which was such a phenomenal movie this one falls short of a 5 star rating.  I round it up to a 4 star because it is still good and fun to watch, but could have been better.  There were many great elements in the movie and Mike & Sully stayed in character.  I felt like almost every scene I had watched in previews was not featured in the actual movie such as Mike being turned into a disco ball by Sully.  It seems that the previews painted Sully out to be more of a bully to Mike than he was in the finished product and I am ok with that result but it always sucks when you are watching for certain parts and never seen them.  This film introduced a lot of fun new characters that brought a whole new element of "scary" to the monsters.  It did have a slightly darker tone than the original movie.  Once we got it started my son was definitely into it from the start and there are some great lessons on friendship and cheating and being excelling at what makes you unique.  I would definitely recommend this movie and would watch it again.

Here is the official website:

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Watermelon-Triple-Berry Protein Smoothie with Kale

It was time to share another one of my delicious protein smoothies.  I like to always add Kale into my smoothies when I can so I am all stocked up for a couple weeks right now :)  I also had watermelon to make use of which gave it a very delicious flavor.  Enjoy!

1-1 1/2 Cup Triple Berry Frozen Fruit Mix (Raspberries, Blueberries & Blackberries)
1 Scoop Vanilla Protein Powder
1/2 apple (cored and sliced)
1/2 pear (cored and sliced)
1-1 1/2 Cup Watermelon (Rind Removed & Sliced)
1 Leaf Kale

1 Cup Rice Milk

Add the frozen ingredients into the blender first and then add the protein and the remaining fruit, top with the milk (This helps ensure a better overall blend).  Blend on medium/high speed until well blended and serve.  This gives me 2 smoothies to enjoy so that I can take care of 2 days at once, refrigerate the remaining smoothie.  Enjoy!

Add all of the ingredients to the blender
Blend until fully mixed
Serve & Enjoy!

If you interested in any other smoothie recipes here is another one I posted:
Pear-Apple-Berry Fruit Protein Smoothie

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Do I Fit Into Modern Day Geek Culture?

I will let you decide:

In my younger, school age years I was always more of an undercover geek playing games like The Sims and Myst tirelessly while very few people knew about it.  As I got older in life and joined the military as an Intelligence Analyst I was able to bring my full “Gamer Geek” persona to the forefront.  I went from feeling like an outcast to finally fitting in with the geek culture all around me.  I was able to immerse myself into even more gaming and different types of gaming, and actually found myself dating guys that I could just hang out and game with for hours on end.  I remember this being the highlight of one dating experience.  I have always been more of a PC gamer, so even when “playing” with friends on consoles we could both just hang out and play single-person games in the same room and still have a great time together.  My laptop went with me everywhere to get in any gaming time that I could.  To this day I still lean towards a laptop over a PC to game from so that I can game from any room in my house and anywhere I go, my laptop can be with me for the maximum amount of gaming time possible.  Once I arrived at my linguistics school to learn Chinese, I found a whole new level of geekdom in the students around me.  As a gamer geek girl, I was celebrated and those who were not geeks were now the outcasts.  I was able to bring many a classmate over to the “darkside” by getting them involved in games that appealed to many different gaming styles such as Dragon Age with the RPG, Action and Simulation type of environment.  I found that by using cross-style games I could appeal to a wider audience and make more friends.  We hosted many gaming parties.  With fewer opportunities to game on my PC, I have definitely found an adequate short –term fix in the app gaming market.  I am able to get in gaming time in the short moments between mommy duties and still be available to be a present and effective parent.   With lifestyle changes I have been able to transform my own personal “geek” self into the ever accommodating market that will help me to be a relevant and effective fit into any geek community.  

I didn't mention cosplay....  but that's a whole different kind of geek...


Friday, April 25, 2014

The Frost of Springtime

Recently I have joined this amazingly addictive book site called  I know, once again I am WAY behind the times, but at least I catch up eventually.  Anyway on the site you can enter in to book giveaways.  I was so excited that I actually won something for once in my life when I was able to read this book.

I received the Frost of Springtime as an advanced reader copy in Kindle format from the talented Rachel L. Demeter.  I was intrigued by the description of the book and got even more excited after exchanging a few messages back and forth with Rachel in which I immediately liked her style.
I have to admit that I was a little hesitant because I was expecting this to be a romance book.  Let me feign ignorance here because my only encounters in the past with romance novels have been in the more harlequin type and I was pleasantly surprised with the content of the story.  I would consider this to be more of a historical fiction novel with romance intertwined.  I was slowly drawn in to the character of Aleksander and his internal war with PTSD as he finds himself on the path of a love that could heal his very soul, if he will take a chance.

My favorite quote:  ""Amour de ma vie ... ton image hante mes nuits, me poursuit le jour, elle remplit ma vie .. " Love of my life, your image haunts my nights, follows me all the day, fulfills my life."

From what I can tell this is Rachel's initial break through novel for sale and for an initial piece she did an amazing job.  I have wrestled back and forth between a 4 and a 5 star review on this book.  I have resolved with a final 4.7   The prologue was excellently written and very vivid and immediately turned my standard to high for this story.  The first 2 chapters felt slightly choppy after such an amazing prologue.  All of the elements of the story were there but I was having a hard time with the locations and visuals, it felt like something was missing.  I was still intrigued by the story and pushed on and by the end of chapter 3 I was fully hooked into the story.  I felt like the descriptions came across much more clearly and I have nothing but praise for the remainder of the story barring 2 or 3 grammatical errors in the last chapter.  And a few unanswered questions that arose with the close of the story. 

The Frost of Springtime revolves around a man known as Vicomte Aleksender de Lefèvre and takes place predominantly in Paris, France during the end of the Franco-Prussian war.  This was a very dark and gloomy time for Paris and Rachel did a superb job of capturing the feeling of desperation and the gloom about the people and settings throughout the story.  My praise really goes out to her portrayal of Aleksander's PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) as he has returned from the war.  She really made you feel like you were inside of Alek's head and wrestling with his inner demons and moral dilemmas as he struggles to keep hold of the edge of sanity to make it through life on a day to day basis.  Not many fictional writers are brave enough to tackle such a daunting task as PTSD and she did so beautifully.  The romance is a gradual, building one that allows you to really feel the roles that the characters play in each other's lives take an enormous shift.  It is not written as an "in your face" sort of affair, but rather one that is done in a tastefully appealing manner and yet it is still quite titillating.  No matter how many mistakes Aleksander seems to make he is ever the underdog you want to continue to root for.  Rachel did a wonderful job personifying his personal struggle and still making him into a lovable character.  Overall I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in historical fiction laced with romance as well as a look at the world from the mind of a man with PTSD and the solace he finds in the innocent love of a woman whose scent is that of roses and the frost of springtime.    I can't wait to read any of Rachel's future works of art.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Roasted Lamb with Orange-Honey-Thyme Glaze

I got inspiration from a couple different recipes when perusing lamb and decided to take some of their ideas on glaze and roasting and then completely change them haha.  Which is usually how I cook.  And I must admit that this recipe turned out to be amazing delicious!  I love lamb and any time I can find it on sale, I will buy it.  Hope that you can enjoy this delicious recipe as much as I did.

3 Lamb Loin Chops
1 Tbsp Honey
1 Tbsp Orange Peel (Grated)
1 Tbsp Thyme
1/2 Tbsp Dried Mint
1 tsp Oregano
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
*Optional  Cutie Oranges (peeled & separated to garnish)

Preheat oven to 325.  Combine all ingredients except for the lamb and orange garnish and mix together.  Set up a deep baking pan lined with foil.  Put a roasting rack on top of the foil.  Take the lamb one at a time and completely cover it in the glaze and place on the roasting rack.   Roast for 25 minutes and check the temperature.  Cook for another 10 minutes and you should be around the 125 degree mark for medium rare.  Continue to cook as desired.  Serve with optional orange garnish and honey drizzle on top.  Enjoy!

Sweet Potato
1 large sweet potato (peeled & chopped)
1/2 Cup Heavy Cream
1/4 Cup Brown Sugar
Dash of Nutmeg
1 tsp Cinnamon
1/4 Cup Mini Marshmallows

Place the chopped sweet potato in a pan and cover to the top of the potatoes with water.  Cook on high and boil until water is almost completely gone.  (Potatoes should be soft and easy to mash) Turn heat to low and add remaining ingredients.  Mix thoroughly and serve with a dash of cinnamon on top. 

Combine the glaze ingredients in a small bowl

Cover the lamb with the glaze and place on the roasting rack and put into the oven
Add the potatoes to the pan and cover with water
Add remaining ingredients to the potatoes and mix thoroughly
Remove the lamb from the oven
Ready to eat
Serve & Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Cinco de Mayo Recipes

Now that Easter is over it's time to look for the next great themed holiday to cook for....  At least that's how the thinking goes in my world.  So I have come across 4 recipes for things that I would like to make but never have in the past.  If you were looking for a more substantial meal you can check out my previous recipes.  I like Mexican food and cook a lot of the simpler recipes on an almost monthly basis so I wanted to branch out to drinks and desserts and a new dip for my chips :)  Enjoy!  And please add on any of your own!

Cucumber Lime Agua Fresca

I just love how fresh and weird and fun this sounds!

Check out the recipe here:
Cucumber Lime Agua Fresca

Tres Leche Cake

It's cake  and it has a glaze AND frosting...  How can you go wrong?

Check out the recipe here:
 Tres Leche Cake


This has to be one of my all-time favorite Mexican yummies!  I can't believe that I have never made it (must be because I don't have cheese cloth laying around haha)

Click here for the recipe:

Chunky Mango Guacamole

I love guacamole and I love mangoes...  why not combine them?  Why have I never thought of this before?

Check out the recipe here:
Chunky Mango Guacamole

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Insight Into My Worklife

In case anyone is interested in knowing a little bit of the mysticism surrounding me at work, I wanted to share this with you.  I don't talk about work very often but when I had to write about a difficult challenge I had faced I ended up resorting to one of many projects I have worked on in the past. Let me know some of your challenging situations if you are open to share, whether work related or not.  Here is one of mine:

As a contractor working on a military education and training base I was tasked with being the Subject Matter Expert (SME) for the main Application Exercise (APEX) for the students. This exercise tests the previously learned skills of the students to ensure that they have actually learned what they needed to out of the 6 month training course to go out into the operational Air Force.  During this time I was asked to combine a previous 3 Day Exercise with a 6 day exercise, turning it into a 9 day exercise that was synchronized and flowed easily, as well as to update the information from static dates of 2008 to static dates of 2011.  Although both exercises featured the same countries in play they were both created by different people and taken from different sources using various dates.  During initial creation they were intended to be separate stand-alone exercises.  This was a massive task that was assigned solely to me intended to be done with the combination of multiple companies and several people.  Due to the reassessment of personnel I ended up doing the majority of the work single-handedly on behalf of the company I worked for.  To add onto the massive project there was a timeline of 3-6 months in order to have the project completed on time for the re-write of the course that I was supporting as all material had to be completed at the same time for it to be approved and signed off on by the military.  The end result was 1042 pieces of message traffic for a day and night shift as well as a plethora of products (imagery, tracking products, PowerPoint briefings, etc.)  I can also throw in the fact that I was in my 2nd and 3rd trimester of my pregnancy with my first child as a single mother during this time.  Needless to say this was a daunting task, but it was one that I welcomed with open arms.  I love nothing more than to be faced with a challenge that I can shape into the best work I can accomplish.  Initially I had to start with figuring out what needed to be included in this project, the resources that I could utilize (as this was a classified exercise and not all resources are readily available) and the timeline that I had to work with.  I worked first on scrubbing (going through and seeing what was still relevant, what needed deleting, what needed changing) the message traffic.  After this I had to make personal contact with resources (personnel and websites) around the military that had worked with similar information and countries.  I had to use quite a combination of finesse and effective communication/people skills over the phone, and through email to get pointed in the right direction.  This was ongoing for many months to get the full range resources and the knowledge that was needed.  I had to come up with the best time management and most effective method of accomplishing all of these things.  Halfway through the project my timeline was cut from having 6 months remaining, to 3 months remaining.  I put in many overtime hours and was able to get all of the products including plotting over a thousand forces on Falconview (a computer based map of the military forces in play).  I had to constantly keep up communication between companies involved to ensure that both sides were synchronized in timing of events, visualization and messages that were dependent upon one another.  During this time I created many new products, still utilized years later, to help any teaching instructors to understand the exercise, and to be able to effectively teach the exercise with the best result of learning and knowledge absorption for the students during the hardest tasks they will face yet in the course.  Although many of my solutions to this problem took on a creative tone, it wasn’t until most of the time consuming work was done that I came up with the best solution yet.  My most creative solution to this monumental task was to take all of the work that I had previously accomplished and put myself in the shoes of the student, to try to envision myself as the audience that would be presented with and tested on this material and see it from their eyes.  I wanted this exercise which had now become my baby to be the most effective and most beneficial 9 days that they could be faced with at the end of their training.  I went through the exercise and acted as though I was in charge of all of the groups at once (during a normal class the students are broken up into 5-6 separate groups to track different aspects of the military forces (Air, Ground, Navy, Defensive Missiles, Special Ops/Ballistic Missiles).  I went through all of the visualizations; I read through each piece of message traffic (multiple times) and I acted as though I was one of the students.  I took each of these groups and I created student products of PowerPoint briefing to track the forces and to brief to the instructors, I moved the forces along with the traffic to ensure that force structure and amounts were adding up to where they should.  I had to track along and ensure that events would follow likely TTP (Tactics, Techniques and Procedures) for my target countries.   I had to be sure that this exercise was as realistic as possible given the static dates that were chosen.  From this creative solution I caught multiple minute force structure and number discrepancies that would not have been as clear otherwise.  In so doing, I was able to save credibility of the exercise when it came to the scrutiny of an actual running class as well as many man hours searching through for these discrepancies after the fact.   This also allowed me to ensure that I could confidently hand over this finished product to the military for validation and official release as an exercise that would be utilized according the military training standards across the Air Force.  I was also able to come up with number and force structure cheat sheets for the instructors to utilize for the beginning and end of each exercise day so that the instructors were able to adequately gauge the status of their students’ ability to keep track of what was going on in the exercise and better assess their finalized briefings.

Pregnant me about a month before my son was born

Monday, April 21, 2014

Easter 2014

All in all, I have to say that Easter this year was a success.  Liam got to go to the Nature Center with his friend Chloe.  We had a great time dying Easter Eggs.  Then he loved his Easter basket and looked so adorable in his bunny ears, and we had a little Easter Egg hunt in the yard for Liam & Chloe and a wonderful dinner.  I was so blessed and very thankful this year.  Wanted to share some of the hilarious and adorable photos from this weekend.  Enjoy!

Toddlers in the Car

Easter Fun at the Nature Center

Cookies & Dying Eggs

Liam's Easter Basket

The Easter Egg Hunt

Posing with the spoils of the hunt