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Friday, May 18, 2012

Creamy Italian French Bread Pizza

The grocery shopping freeze continues......  today I had a half package of sliced pepperoni, a frozen loaf of Italian bread, cream cheese, onions, pizza sauce and shredded co-jack cheese with.  I have to say what came out of this fridge/freezer clean out was amazing!!!!! 

1 loaf Italian bread
1 - 8 oz. package low fat cream cheese
1/2 cup Ranch dressing
1/2 jar pizza sauce (could also use spaghetti sauce in a pinch)
2 onions, sliced
1 bag shredded cheddar, co-jack or mozzarella cheese

Saute sliced onions in medium skillet over medium-high heat.  Meanwhile, slice loaf in half length-wise and gently scoop out the filling.  Toast the hollowed loaf until golden brown.

Microwave cream cheese for 30 seconds, mix with Ranch dressing.  Spread cream cheese mixture over the bread, top with the sauce.  Divide the onions in half and put half on each side, next layer pepperoni and then top with shredded cheese.  Bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes, until cheese is melted and bubbly.

My kids LOVED this!!!  I will definitely be making this again.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Mexican Pasta Casserole

As I mentioned yesterday I'm on a grocery freeze at my house until after we get back from vacation.  We are going to work through our pantry and our freezer for the next couple of weeks and then when we get back from vacation we'll stock back up again and know everything is fresh and new.

Yesterday I was working with this:

Ground beef, egg-free noodles, black beans, corn, rotel, salsa, 1/2 a block of Velveeta, a kind of sad but still usable red pepper......

1 red pepper, chopped
1/2 - 1 red onion, chopped
1 lb. ground beef
1 packet taco seasoning
3/4 cup taco sauce or salsa
1/2 cup water
1 can black beans
1 can corn
1 can rotel tomatoes
3/4 cup sour cream
2 eggs, beaten
6 oz. pasta
8 oz. Velveeta, cut into small cubes

Saute pepper and onion in olive oil over medium-high heat.  When translucent add ground beef and cook until browned.  Add taco seasoning, rotel tomatoes, salsa/taco sauce and water.  Bring to boil then reduce heat to simmer.  Drain and rinse beans and corn and add them to skillet. 

In the meantime, boil noodles according to package directions.  Drain and while still hot add Velveeta, sour cream and eggs and mix to combine.  Pour this mixture into 9x13 casserole dish.

Top this with the meat mixture and then top with shredded cheddar cheese (I used cheddar-jack slices because I had them :-)  Bake at 375 for about 20-30 minutes or until cheese is melted and sauce is bubbling at the edges.  I garnished mine with black olives and sliced green onions but you could also put any other taco stuff on top like jalepeno peppers or diced tomatoes.  

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Sorry for the absence.....

So I know I've been MIA lately.  I have had many of you email or ask me in passing "What happened to Toolbox for Moms?"  The truth is I have just been overwhelmed with my new job (you know, the one that actually pays me :-) but I'm recommitting myself to blogging.  I can't promise to blog every day but I'll strive for a few a week.  Hopefully that will keep you checking back or hopefully you have signed up to "follow" me.  And if you really love what I have to say PIN IT or pass it along to your friends! 

Tonight I'm making an experimental dinner -- some sort of Mexican pasta thing with ground beef.  I really don't know what its going to be yet but if it turns out well I'll post it tomorrow.  The thing is we are leaving on vacation soon and I am challenging myself to buy very few groceries before we go.  I am going to work through the freezer and pantry for dinners and just buy milk, a little fresh fruit.....we'll see how creative I can get.  Hence tonight's meal, I've got black beans, ground beef, egg noodles......let's see where that takes us.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Easy Dinner Idea -- BBQ Chicken Pizza

Sometimes you want to make dinner for your family but you don't have much time or the right groceries in the house.  So this is a recipe you can make super quick with just 5 ingredients from the grocery store! 

What to buy?  A rotisserie chicken, a bottle of bbq sauce, red onion, shredded mozzarella cheese, pizza crust. 

I used Sweet Baby Ray's bbq sauce and Mama Mary's pizza crust -- these are pre-made, in the aisle near pizza and spaghetti sauce - I like the thin and crispy variety.

Here's how easy it is to put it together.  Take the meat off the chicken, for one pizza you'll only need about half the chicken.  Toss the chicken in some bbq sauce.  Spread sauce on the crust, top with chicken.  Slice red onion very thin and place on top of chicken.  Top with cheese and bake according to your crust directions.  The Mama Mary's crust are baked at 425 for 8-10 minutes.  

That's it!  Delicious BBQ Chicken Pizza! 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Crock Pot Country Ribs

Price Chopper had boneless Country Pork ribs on sale a few weeks ago.  I had no idea what I was going to do with them but I bought them anyway and put them in my freezer.  (I'm a sucker for cheap meat!)  Decided to cook them in the crock pot.  They turned out really great so I'm sure next time they are on sale I'll buy them again.

3-4 lbs. boneless country pork ribs
1 - 16 oz. bottle bbq sauce (I used KC Masterpiece)
3 T. apple cider vinegar
1 T. garlic powder
1 large yellow onion, sliced.

Salt and pepper all side of the pork and lay in the bottom of slow cooker.  Top with sliced onions and pour sauce mixture over the top.  Cook on low for 8-9 hours. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

What to do with the 1/2 bottle of wine????

Okay, so I know many of my friends would never have a problem of what to do with an extra half bottle of wine but the reality is, while I love wine my husband doesn't.  So unless I want to drink an entire bottle by myself or drink 1 glass each night for 3 or 4 nights in a row, I often find myself with a portion of a bottle left over.  I've solved this dilemma by freezing it!  Frozen wine can be thawed and used for cooking later.  I have all these little 1/2 cup (4 oz.) Rubbermaid containers that came with a combo pack I bought.  They aren't good for much but they are great for this.  Divvy up your wine into 4 oz. servings, pop on the lids and freeze.  Next time you need some red wine for red sauce or white wine for risotto, just take it out of the freezer and you are good to go!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Garlic Mashed Potatoes

I love these mashed potatoes.  I swear they rival any restaurant.  The recipe below is with cream, which makes them very yummy but honestly I usually use skim milk because that is what I have on hand and because cream is fattening! 

6 medium potatoes, washed, peeled and cut into small cubes (about 1/2" -- this makes them quick cooking)
3/4 cup cream
3 T. butter
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

Cover potato cubes with cold water in 6 quart stock pot.  Add a generous amount of salt, at least 1 Tablespoon.  Cover pot and put on high heat.  When water starts boiling take lid off and let boil for about 15-20 minutes.  Meanwhile, put butter, garlic and cream into small sauce pan and put over low heat to steep while potatoes are cooking, making sure not to let it boil.  When potatoes are fork tender drain them in colander and return them to the hot pot.  Using a potato masher roughly mashed the potatoes.  Add the butter/cream mixture and continue mashing until desired consistently.  Salt and pepper to taste. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Sunday Pot Roast

Growing up we very often had roast on Sunday.  My mom would cook it in the PRESSURE COOKER on the stove, you'd hear that silver knob rocking on top and know it was roast day.  PRESSURE COOKER is all caps because I was very afraid of that contraption.  I'd heard horror stories about how they would blow up if knocked the wrong way.  But it was worth the risk, the roast was always delicious with mashed potatoes and gravy on the side.

My husband grew up eating roast too only his roasted came with roasted veggies on the side -- carrots, potatoes and onion cooked along side the roast in the oven.  I will say, I'm not a fan of these veggies.  They seem very bland to me and just not at all appealing.  When I'm  traveling Jeff will occasionally make this version of pot roast in the crock pot with some onion soup mix.  Its a great option for when I'm not home.

This week I decided to create my own version of Sunday Roast.  I really love how it turned out so I hope you'll try it.

2.5 - 3 lb. roast
2 onions, sliced
3 celery stalks, chopped into chunks
4 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
2 cups red wine
1 15 oz. can beef broth
2 bay leaves
2 garlic cloves
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Salt and pepper all sides of roast.  Heat olive oil in dutch oven on stove top.  Sear all sides of meat.  Remove from pan and let rest.  Put onions, carrots and celery in dutch oven and cook for 2 – 3 minutes.  Reduce heat to med-low, add garlic cloves and cover for 10 minutes, until onions are translucent.  Add red wine and beef broth to pan, raise heat, bring to simmer, add bay leaves and nestle meat down into liquid and veggies.  Cover and move to 325 degree oven for 3 hours.

Remove roast from oven and let rest while you prepare the gravy.  Use a slotted spoon to remove all the veggies, bay leaves and garlic from drippings.  Put the dutch oven on the stove and turn on heat to med-high.  Mix 2 T. corn starch with 1 cup of the juice and then pour back into pan.  Bring to low boil, remove from heat and add 1/2 T butter.  

Slice roast.  Serve with veggies and gravy on the side.

I served mine with garlic mashed potatoes (recipe coming tomorrow!) and green beans.

Roast, salted and peppered, going into hot pot

Roast, browned on all sides

Veggies in the pot

Veggies, ready for wine and broth

Roast, ready to go into oven

Roast, gravy, veggies....YUM!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Roasting Veggies

My kids love vegetables.  Yes, I know it is crazy but seriously they will fight over a pan of broccoli.  Last month Liv sat down to dinner and noticed we were one plate short.  "Where's Haley?"  she asked.  "At a friends, she won't be home for dinner."  I told her.  Her eyes lit up and she turned to Jeff.  "More broccoli for us!!!!"

Now I will say my kids do not like canned veggies or frozen veggies.  They like roasted vegetables and I roast them all.  I have roasted broccoli, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, peppers, squash, zucchini....pretty much whatever is in season gets roasted in our house. 

Here's the method.  It works on all of them but the cooking time will vary. 

Clean and prep your veggies.  For broccoli and cauliflower that means cutting into bite sized florets, for asparagus that means snapping off the woody ends, for peppers just chunk into bite sized pieces, you get the point. 

Spread the veggies onto a cookie sheet or bar pan, its best to use something with a lip just so the oil doesn't run off or the veggies don't go sliding off when you move the pan in and out of the oven.

Drizzle the veggies with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.  We also sometimes use a McCormick Grinder that has salt and garlic in it instead of kosher salt.  (if you aren't familiar with the McCormick grinders check them out in your spice aisle.) 

Next put the pan in a HOT oven (400 or even 425) and cook until the desired doneness.  For my family  that means they still have a little bite to them.  Approximate cooking times at 400 degrees is 15-20 minutes for broccoli, 12-15 minutes for asparagus, cauliflower is longer - about 30 minutes, Brussels spouts take a good 35-40 minutes. 

You can also experiment with adding other flavors especially to cauliflower which doesn't have a lot of flavor on its own.  Sprinkle them with rosemary, oregano or crushed red pepper flakes.  You can also toss the hot, roasted veggies with a little balsamic vinegar, lemon juice and/or Parmesan cheese.  Experiment!  Try mixing veggies for a roasted blend, like butternut squash and green and yellow zucchini or broccoli and red peppers.  If you are buying in season the most you will be out is a couple of bucks if you don't like how it turned out.  But honestly my family always goes back to the basics -- salt, pepper, olive oil.

I have had people who said they didn't like broccoli try the roasted version and love it.  It definitely gives it a whole new flavor, really nutty almost.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Bananas Too Ripe? Make Bread!

I woke up on Sunday morning to find 6 very ripe bananas sitting on my counter.

This isn't a rare issue for me because I love fresh bananas but only when they are perfectly ripe and not a bit over ripe.  So anytime I buy a bundle from Sam's chances are 2-6 of them will not get eaten within the "window."  Typically I slice them up, place them on a cookie sheet covered with wax paper, slide them in the freezer and then put them in a tuperware when they are frozen solid and keep them on hand for future uses -- like smoothies.

Sliced bananas, ready to go in the freezer
But I also have a great banana bread recipe that I have been using since I was little.  I think it was my Grandma Flossie's (since it calls for Crisco) but I may be imagining that.  I do know that I submitted a few loaves to the Warren County Fair when I was in 4H and got a blue ribbon!  So here's my Blue Ribbon Banana Bread!

2 bananas, peeled and mashed
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup butter flavored Crisco
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
3 Tbsp. milk
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, optional

In mixing bowl mash the bananas with a potato masher or pastry blender, add sugar, egg and Crisco and beat on medium until well mixed.  Add sifted flour, baking soda, baking powder and milk, mix just until combined.  Do not over mix - this will make the bread tough.  Transfer dough to greased bread pan or muffin pan.  Let dough rest 20 minutes before baking to prevent cracking.  Bake in 350 degree oven.  Muffins will take about 25 minutes, loaf pan will take 1 hour.

Tips -- I have tried substituting real butter for Crisco.  It does NOT work.  Just bite the bullet and go with the Crisco.  Also, I used to hate sifting flour when I was a kid because we had this old sifter with the pull handle that took forever and left you with major hand cramps.  Now I just use a fine mesh kitchen strainer over a bowl.  Gets the job done and is completely painless! 

Sifting Flour the easy way!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Chopped Salad

Tonight we had dinner at my mom's house during the Super Bowl.  My job was to bring a salad.  I get requested to bring salad a lot and they usually want/expect me to bring my Cashew Craisin Salad with Red Wine Vinaigrette but tonight I wanted to do something different.  My inspiration was the chopped salad we used to get at Gambucci's.  Here's what I came up with:

Salad Fixings:
½ cucumber, peeled, seeded, finely chopped
1 roma tomato,  seeded and finely chopped
½ red onion, finely chopped
1 head romaine, finely chopped
½ head iceberg, finely chopped
1 red pepper, finely chopped
6 strips bacon, cooked crisp and finely chopped
½ cup crumbled feta

Balsamic Dressing:
¼ cup Balsamic vinegar
1 clove garlic
1 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
1 tsp. brown sugar
½ cup olive oil

Mix vinegar, garlic, salt, pepper and brown sugar in blender.  Gradually add olive oil until completely emulsified.

Toss dressing with salad right before serving.

Happy Chopping!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Digital Picture System

I get a lot of people asking me how I organize and store my pictures so I'm sharing my SYSTEM with you.

1.  Periodically I will remove my SD card from my camera and insert it into my laptop.  I choose to move my picture this way because I think it is easier than using the cable and software provided by my camera company.

2.  On my computer I create a folder titled with the year, for example 2010, and I create a new folder for each year.

3.  I then create a folder for each event, always titling it with first the month and year and then a description.  For example, 03-10 Spring Break.  This ensures that my pictures will for the most part be in chronological order.  

4.  I move the pictures off the card onto my laptop one event at a time.  I simply go to the directory that shows what's on the card and select the pictures I want to move.  Then I drag and drop those pictures into the new folder I just created for them.

5.  I only print pictures when I am ready to scrapbook them and then I only print a very manageable number of pictures.  No reason to print 2 years at once since I can't possibly get to them all in a reasonable time.

6.  Each year in January or February I take all of the pictures in the previous year folder and copy them onto a CD.  Only once has an entire year not fit on a CD (but we took 3 big vacations that year).  I just did a disc 1 and disc 2.

7.  If I accidentally print more pictures that I end up needing to scrapbook I file those chronologically into a photo file box.  These can come in handy when they need a quick picture for a school project.  I also store my CDs with pictures on them in the same box.  However, it isn't a bad idea to keep back up CDs off the premise, in case of fire, like at your office or your mom's house.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Kansas City Radio Show for Women

I'm excited to share with my readers a new radio show for women that is starting this week in KC.  But never fear, if you don't live in KC you can listen online.

The show is called The Perk and it is a weekly one hour radio show with 4 women moderating discussion about topics important to women.  I for one am super excited to tune in for their first show, Thursday, February 2nd at 3:00 p.m. on 1510AM.  However, since I'm a working mom, I may have to listen to the podcast later in the evening.

One of the ladies, Kelli,  is a very old, dear friend of mine.  She is a sorority sister (Chi Omega) and we were roommates in college.  She is an amazing person, a working mom, a lawyer, active in her community, a great friend!  

I hope you'll tune in and if you do, come back here and comment and let me know your thoughts.


Monday, January 23, 2012

Keeping Calendars Straight

We have a very full schedule to juggle, as I'm sure you do too.  I work full time which involves some travel.  My kids are both very active in school and sports.  So I have set up a system that seems to be pretty full proof regarding keeping us on track and where we need to be when we need to be there.

1.  Keep one calendar ONLY!   This is the cardinal rule.  Do not have one calendar for your family, one calendar for work, one calendar for your personal stuff.  This is just asking for chaos.  One calendar ensures that if you are scheduling a dentist appointment for your daughter you can see that you have a work commitment at the same time, meaning you can't take her.

2.  Electronic is best.  I say this for several reasons.  First an electronic calendar (i.e. Microsoft Outlook, Google Calendar) can be easily edited without leaving a mess behind.  Second, there is infinite space for notes, addresses, multiple appointments at the same time.  Third, it will make it much easier to sync with your family.  And last, with smartphones, iPhones, Blackberries, etc., it is easy to carry this calendar with you at all times.

3.  Make meetings with your spouse.  If you are using an electronic calendar set up everything as a meeting and "invite" your spouse.  Have him do the same thing.  This way you both have the same calendar.  I don't invite him to things that occur within my normal work hours but I do send him travel arrangements.  When you accept a meeting invite you have the choice to make your time free or "pencil it in" on your calendar meaning that a dentist appointment for your daughter that your husband is handling the transportation on will not make you look unavailable for work meetings.  This has been a lifesaver for us! 

4.  Make up a Week at a Glance chart.  I made a chart a few years ago called "Sloan Family Week at a Glance."  It is very basic in design -- just seven columns for each day of the week that runs Monday - Sunday.  I laminated it so I can write on and rinse off each week.  Sunday evening I sit down with my Blackberry and I write down everything we have going on and it gets taped on the front of the refrigerator.  This is great for everyone, including the kids, to see what is going on.  It also helps with meal planning, if one night is jam packed with everyone going every different way, its probably a good night for crockpot chili or leftovers. 

So that is how I manage the very busy calendars of four very active people in my house.  If you haven't used Google Calendar or Microsoft Outlook, play around with them.  I'm not terribly familiar with the Google one but that is what my husband uses and it syncs to his Sprint EVO.  I use Outlook which I LOVE!  Each morning when I get to work I also print off just that one day and carry it with me.  One other perk to going electronic is you can schedule YEARS in advance if you want to.  And yes, sometimes I will know a year or more in advance of something that needs to go on the calendar.  If you use paper you can't write it down until you buy that year's planner. 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Happy Birthday to Me

Today is my birthday.  I'm turning 39 years old and to tell you the truth I'm really conflicted about it.  Not for the reasons you might think.  I don't worry that I'm getting old, I don't feel like 40 is breathing down my neck.  In fact I feel anxious for 40.  I'm kind of ready to move on from my 30s and yet I have another year left.

My 20's were so exciting, something new every year.  Graduated from college at 21, married Jeff at 22, bought our first home at 23, had Haley at 24, had Olivia at 27, bought our current home at 28, at 29 Haley started Kindergarten and we made some terrific new friends.  There was always something big to look forward to.

My 30's have been the maintenance years.  We've raised our little girls into young ladies.  We redone (and redone) the house.  We started a business and sold that business.  I've nurtured my career, my children, my home, my friendships, I buried my dad.  I guess I'm ready to jump into the next phase of my life. 

I know my 40's will more closely resemble my 20's in the fact that there will be MANY changes!  Both of my girls will graduate from high school and college during my 40's.  They could both get married too!  Haley could even have a baby if she follows in my footsteps!  Heck, she'll be 27 when I turn 50 so I guess she could have 2!  Jeff and I will get to rediscover ourselves as a couple vs just as parents.  With the new job I started last fall I see a lot of opportunities for the next 10 years career-wise.  I see lots of travel in my 40s (not that the 30s were lacking in travel :-). 

So here I am, on the brink of a new decade.  I hope to use this year wisely.  To get myself more physically fit.  To become more financially disciplined so I can pay for the 40s (college and weddings don't come cheap!)  To help my husband find a career he can love and develop in the next 10 years as well. 

So tonight as I celebrate my 39th birthday I'll actually be celebrating the end of an era and the transition to a new one!  40 here I come!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Three Bean Chicken Chili

I love my soup recipes in the winter but we have had all the family favorites in the past few weeks -- potato, chicken enchilada, tortellini, chicken tortilla, etc. so it was time to come up with something new.  I love creating a new recipe, I love the creative process so I decided to take a stab at a green chicken chili.  It was a hit with the family (except Haley who isn't a fan of beans.)

Three Bean Chicken Chili

1 1/2 pounds chicken breasts, pounded thin and then cubed
2 T. olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 green pepper, finely chopped
2 jalapeno peppers, seeds and ribs removed and finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced (I actually grate mine on a microplane)
3 T. flour
2 cans chicken broth
1 can green chilies
1 can salsa verde (green salsa - found in a pop top can in the mexican aisle, think it is about a 5 oz. can)
1 can black beans, rinsed
1 can white kidney beans, rinsed
1 can pinto beans, rinsed
1/2 tsp oregano
salt and pepper
fresh cilantro, chopped

Heat oil in heavy bottom stock pot over high heat.  Sprinkle the cubed chicken with salt and pepper.  Add to hot oil and saute for 3 minutes or until no longer visibly pink on the outside.  Remove chicken to plate. Reduce heat to med-high and add chopped peppers and onions to the stock pot (add a little more oil if necessary) and cook for 5 - 7 minutes or until veggies are tender.  Add chicken back in and toss with garlic and flour.  Cook 1-2 minutes to remove raw flour taste.  Stir in chicken broth, beans, green chilies, salsa verde and oregano.  Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  During last 5 minutes add cilantro.  Serve with chopped green onions on top.

This does have some heat, it isn't burn your mouth spicy but there is a little back of the throat burn.  If you want to tone down the heat just use one jalapeno or skip them altogether.  We like a little heat so it was perfect for us.

I served this with a loaf of beer bread that I had added green chilies and cheddar cheese to.  It was perfect with it. 


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

To Resolve or Not to Resolve? Part 1

This time of year there is a lot of chatter going on about New Year's Resolutions.  I'll be honest and say I never proclaim New Years Resolutions.  Now on the other hand my birthday is coming up and I usually do make birthday resolutions -- privately, to myself.  Usually they revolve around being more fit -- more physically fit, more financially fit and more spiritually fit.  Over the years I've found some resources that I think help with these resolutions so I thought I'd share them with my readers.

SparkPeople -- Who are these people and why do they spark?  Well, actually sparkpeople - one word - is a great website.  The interesting story behind it is that this guy (the SparkGuy) owned an on line bidding sight which he sold to Ebay making himself a small fortune.  He wanted to do something for society so www.sparkpeople.com was born.  IT IS FREE!!!  And it is great.  It is chock full of recipes, articles, work out routines and again -- all FREE.  It also has tracking for food intake and exercise.  Sounds a lot like Weight Watchers online?  It is but its FREE!

So to start you set up your profile and state your goals -- is it to lose 30 pounds in a year?  30 pounds in a month?  It will tell you if your goal is realistic.  It will then ask you questions about your activity levels and lifestyle.  Then it gives you a range for each day for intake in calories, protein, carbs and fat.  It will also tell you exactly what to eat if you want it to or you can just log your food and it tallies as it goes and lets you know how you are doing in each of those areas. 

For exercise, again it will tell you exactly what exercises to do or just give you a calorie burn guideline and let you track your own. 

You also have the ability to interact with other sparkers via community boards.  You earn sparkpoints for tracking food, doing exercise, reading articles, etc.  The sparkpoints translate into spark trophies and you can use them to buy spark goodies for your online friends.  Okay, so this may be more than you are looking for in a weight loss website but they have data to show the more involved you are the better you will do. 

When I first discovered Sparkpeople in 2008 I lost about 35 pounds in 4 months.  I know I need to get back on it seriously and that is one of my birthday resolutions this year.  In the past couple of years several of the People Magazine "I Lost Half My Body" people were using SparkPeople. 

So whether your goal is to lose weight or just eat better and exercise more or just to be a more fit person all around or just to maintain the fitness you have, check it out.  I think you'll find something of value there!


By the way, there is an iPhone app for this that I hear is pretty great but I don't have an iPhone so I can't speak to it specifically.  And they also have Sparkteens.com for the younger set that is focused more on just healthy habits and less on weight loss.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

My Top Books of 2011

I read 37 books in 2011.  I know this because I use www.goodreads.com to track my reading.  For 2012 my goal is to read 50 books.  According to goodreads I’ve already read two since I finished Fly Away Home on the 1st of January (and I actually did read a whole book in one day on January 2nd)  so basically I’m off to a good start.  If you are a goodreads “friend” of mine you will see that my choice of books is very eclectic, really all over the place.  So as I was looking through my choices for last year it got me thinking “What if I could only recommend 10% of these to a friend? Which would they be?”  That would be 3.7 books, I’ll round up to 4 to make it even.  I have to warn you that one of my standards of a good book is that it move me in some way – it can move me to tears or to laughter so some of these will have you laughing out loud and some will have you bawling into your paper back!

  1. Same Kind of Different as Me: A Modern Day Slave, an International Art Dealer and the Unlikely Woman Who Bound Them Together by Ron Hall – this is non-fiction, a memoir of this gentlemen who befriend a black, homeless
  2. Bitter is the New Black: Confessions of a Condescending, Egomaniacal, Self-Centered Smart-Ass, or Why You Should Never Carry a Prada Bag to the Unemployment Office: A Memoir by Jennifer Lancaster – this is the first in a series by this lady and while the series gets pretty old pretty fast the first few – and most specifically this one, the first one – literally had me laughing out loud on airplanes and other public spaces.
  3. I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb – the story of identical twins, one is a paranoid schizophrenic.  It is so well written however it is rather long, almost 900 pages, and very heavy to carry around so this would be a great one to load on your iPad or Kindle.
  4. Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe – okay so really this one was hard for me to pick.  I kind of wanted to make #4 Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand or Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum but those are all really heavy and dark and while very good reads I wanted to give you something that was just plain fun!  This book is exactly that.  And if you are my age, or within 5 year give or take (that would be 34 – 44 years old) you will really appreciate all the stories he has to tell!

So that is it.  My top 10% of books from last year.  I hope you’ll pick up one or two (or maybe even all four!)  This year if I make my goal to 50 books I’ll give you 5 for 2013! 

Happy Reading!