Thursday, January 28, 2010

NOW it's Official

I have said it aloud to a few people, but I don't feel like it is actually official until I put it in writing. So here it is....


My friend talked me in to doing it with her. At first I thought she was crazy but I decided to start the training program anyway. After the first few miles (3-4) I still thought it was impossible to ever run a full 13 miles. But now that I've been running more than three miles 4 days a week it is getting easier and easier.

After almost 3 weeks of training I think of the 2 mile days as a complete breeze. Yesterday I had energy to spare after running 4 miles. I can see the light at the end of the tunnell and I think 13 miles might actually be possible.

Of course training during an Illinois winter isn't the greatest. In just three weeks time I have run through the rain once and the snow twice. I've splashed mud all over my pants and run in short sleeves because it was so warm (50). Its a roller coaster, that's for sure. I have learned a few things along the way.

#1: Running is 99% mental. If you think you can do it, and you train correctly. You CAN do it.

#2: Food is an essential part of running. When I run in the morning on an empty stomach I am dragging. I can barely make it. But if I run in the afternoon, about 3 or 4 hours after lunch, I have loads of energy. (Too bad the race is in the morning. Not sure what to do about that yet.)

#3: Running in a soft snow of big flakes is peaceful and fun. Running in a blowing snow of small sleet balls is not so great. My clothes were soaked and so was my hair. I was inhaling so much snow that I must have been super hydrated, but keeping it out of my eyes was another issue. I could barely see. I had to look straight down at my feet instead of up the road....oh well that kept me from seeing the "what an idiot" look on the faces of the drivers going by.

So this weekend I'll be running 5 miles. That will be the furthest I've ever run in my entire life and will bring my total miles for the week up to 12 miles. Amazingly I can't wait! I'm excited for the challenge, and I want to prove to myself that I really can do it.

I'll let you know how it goes.

If you are interested in training of any kind of race from a 5K to a Marathon you can find a training schedule if you Google "Hal Higdon Training Schedule".

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Nanaimo Bars

The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and

Nanaimo Bars are a traditional Canadian dessert, featured because the world's eye will be turned to Canada in just 2 weeks for the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. Nanaimo (pronounced nah-ny-mo) Bars are made with graham crackers in the crust so in order to make gluten free Nanaimo Bars we had to first make our own gluten free graham crackers.

The graham crackers were simple to make and actually very delicious....they just didn't taste like graham crackers. Made with rice, sorghum and tapioca flour the gluten free graham crackers tasted like a very crispy butter cookie. I would definitely like to make them again...maybe with less expensive whole wheat flour. The kids loved them and couldn't stop eating them and the crackers took no time at all to make once the dough was chilled. And they have 2 Tablespoons of vanilla in them, so what's not to like? I highly recommend making gluten free graham crackers.

The Nanaimo Bars were really tasty as well. The bars basically consist of three layers: 1) graham crackers, almonds, cocoa powder and coconut crust; 2) vanilla/buttercream icing filling; and 3) chocolate topping. They were a snap to make. The only complaint I would have is that they must stay refrigerated, but when you cut the cold bars the chocolate topping cracks all over the place and does not look very nice.
I enjoyed this challenge (and the food we made) very much, but the most rewarding part of the whole experience was the response I got from an acquaintance with Celiac Disease. When my husband heard what my challenge for the month was he asked if he could take the gluten free graham crackers and Nanaimo Bars to a (high school) student that he has who suffers from Celiac Disease. I agreed and after checking with his mother to make sure everything in the recipe was safe for Alex to eat, I sent the desserts off to school with my husband. That afternoon I got a message from Alex that said, "That was the best gluten free dessert I've ever had!" I promised him I would give his mom the recipe. It was great to bring culinary joy to someone on a very limited diet. Thanks Daring Bakers.

Gluten Free Graham Crackers

1 cup (138 g) (4.9 ounces) Sweet rice flour (also known as glutinous rice flour)
3/4 cup (100 g) (3.5 ounces) Tapioca Starch/Flour
1/2 cup (65 g) (2.3 ounces) Sorghum Flour
1 cup (200 g) (7.1 ounces) Dark Brown Sugar, Lightly packed
1 teaspoon (5 mL) Baking soda
3/4 teaspoon (4 mL ) Kosher Salt
7 tablespoons (100 g) (3 ½ ounces) Unsalted Butter (Cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen)
1/3 cup (80 mL) Honey, Mild-flavoured such as clover.
5 tablespoons (75 mL) Whole Milk
2 tablespoons (30 mL) Pure Vanilla Extract

1. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, combine the flours, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt. Pulse on low to incorporate. Add the butter and pulse on and off, until the mixture is the consistency of a coarse meal. If making by hand, combine aforementioned dry ingredients with a whisk, then cut in butter until you have a coarse meal. No chunks of butter should be visible.

2. In a small bowl or liquid measuring cup, whisk together the honey, milk and vanilla. Add to the flour mixture until the dough barely comes together. It will be very soft and sticky.

3. Turn the dough onto a surface well-floured with sweet rice flour and pat the dough into a rectangle about 1 inch thick. Wrap in plastic and chill until firm, about 2 hours, or overnight.

4. Divide the dough in half and return one half to the refrigerator. Sift an even layer of sweet rice flour onto the work surface and roll the dough into a long rectangle, about 1/8 inch thick. The dough will be quite sticky, so flour as necessary. Cut into 4 by 4 inch squares.

5. Place wafers on one or two parchment-lined baking sheets. Chill until firm, about 30 to 45 minutes. Repeat with the second batch of dough. Adjust the rack to the upper and lower positions and preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius).

6. Prick the wafers with toothpick or fork, not all the way through, in two or more rows.

7. Bake for 25 minutes, until browned and slightly firm to the touch, rotating sheets halfway through to ensure even baking. Might take less, and the starting location of each sheet may determine its required time. The ones that started on the bottom browned faster.

Nanaimo Bars

Bottom Layer
1/2 cup (115 g) (4 ounces) Unsalted Butter
1/4 cup (50 g) (1.8 ounces) Granulated Sugar
5 tablespoons (75 mL) Unsweetened Cocoa
1 Large Egg, Beaten
1 1/4 cups (300 mL) (160 g) (5.6 ounces) Gluten Free Graham Wafer Crumbs
1/2 cup (55 g) (1.9 ounces) Almonds (Any type, Finely chopped)
1 cup (130 g) (4.5 ounces) Coconut (Shredded, sweetened or unsweetened)

Middle Layer
1/2 cup (115 g) (4 ounces) Unsalted Butter
2 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons (40 mL) Heavy Cream
2 tablespoons (30 mL) Vanilla Custard Powder (Vanilla pudding mix may be substituted.)
2 cups (254 g) (8.9 ounces) Icing Sugar (Confectioners sugar)

Top Layer
4 ounces (115 g) Semi-sweet chocolate
2 tablespoons (28 g) (1 ounce) Unsalted Butter

1. For bottom Layer: Melt unsalted butter, sugar and cocoa in top of a double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. (This will thicken very quickly.) Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, nuts and coconut. Press firmly into an ungreased 8 by 8 inch pan.

2. For Middle Layer: Cream butter, cream, custard powder, and icing sugar together well. Beat until light in colour. Spread over bottom layer.

3. For Top Layer: Melt chocolate and unsalted butter over low heat. Cool. Once cool, pour over middle layer and chill.

Keep refrigerated.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

C ya Tomorrow

There are no recipes here today for two reasons:

#1: Tomorrow is the big reveal of the January Daring Baker's Challenge so I will have two recipes to share tomorrow. Be sure to come back to see that.

#2: I'm kind of bummed about baking/cooking right now. First of all eating healthy puts a big damper in the fun baking projects, and secondly I accidently erased all of my recipe links. I had links to probably 50 recipes that I wanted try in my favorites list. All gone. It was devastating. So I'm starting over from scratch. *sigh*

Anyway, tomorrow's post should be very educational and will hopefully give you two new recipes to try on your family. In the meantime I'm sure they're all still baking over at Tempt My Tummy Tuesday and Tuesdays at the Table. Check it out.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Manic Monday

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Some Thoughts on Pre-School

I am thinking about preschool because I just finished signing Kinley up for a three-day-a-week class in the fall. This will mark the first time any of my children has ever attended preschool. I have mixed feelings about that.
On one hand I'm not really a big believer in the need for preschool, but on the other hand I have to go back to work and it's better than daycare any day.

When I tell people that I don't really believe in preschool they look at me like I'm crazy, but here are my thoughts on the subject.

#1: Neither Brian nor I, nor any of our siblings ever attended preschool, so it isn't something we were ever exposed to or familiar with.

#2: As a stay-at-home mom I kind of think, "Why pay someone to do what I can do at home anyway?" And after all the reason I chose to stay at home with my young kids is so that I could be the first and biggest influence in their lives. I really don't want to hand them off to anyone else.*

#3: Once a child begins school at age 5 the school system will control his/her/your schedule for the next 16 years. Why add two more years on to that? Freedom to travel and play and visit is too valuable to give up before it is mandatory.

#4: I make sure that my kids get plenty of social interaction and time in a classroom setting so that they are prepared for school. This week Kinley will have been in a classroom setting with her peers (and without me) for 12 hours just due to the programs that I participate in (MOPS, church, Bible study) which provide childcare and instruction as well. Now, this is an unusual week. But even on an average week she spends 5 hours in class. Next year in preschool she'll only be there 6 hours all week.

#5: I take my kids to preschool screenings offered each year to make sure that the instruction they are receiving from me is comparable to other children their age. My boys have always tested high for their age. Kinley will be tested for the first time in April. She already knows all of her letters, colors and number up through 20...not only by memory but also by sight. We are working on writing her name now.

So why am I sending Kinley for one year of preschool? Well, it looks like I will be getting a job this fall. I wasn't planning on going back to work until Kinley was in Kindergarten but the opportunities in my area appeared this year so I really can't wait.

It isn't that I think she won't like preschool, on the contrary I think she'll love it. It isn't that I don't like the teacher. Quite the opposite. I think the teacher is wonderful. I just wish it wasn't necessary for her to go. I know we'll adjust to the new schedule and she'll be thrilled with her school life, but I'm sad to see the end of the years of us together at home.

For everything there is a season.

*If I were a working Mom my children would have attended two years of preschool each, no doubt. I think it is the best alternative for working mothers.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Pizza Sfincione

Have I mentioned I LOVE King Arthur Flour Baker's Banter Blog? There are sooooo many good recipes on that site and the writers/bakers are so talented and entertaining. Every recipe comes with very detailed instructions, pictures and tips for successful baking.

Most recently I wanted to try a new pizza recipe I found on the blog. It was for Pizza Sfincione, a traditional Sicilian pizza commonly served on New Year's Day, and also throughout the year in little roadside carts. It has a spongy chewy crust, a layer of yummy cheeses, a layer of tomato-ey toppings and then a layer of crispy breadcrumbs. Yum! Yum! It was as scrumptious as I had imagined.

If you are looking for a break from traditional wedges of thin crust pepperoni this is the pizza recipe you should try. The big beafy squares will satisfy your pizza cravings and give you a traditional taste of Sicily.
Picture courtesy of KAF Baker's Banter

Pizza Sfincione (Source: KAF Baker's Banter)

3 cups All-Purpose Flour
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons to 1 cup + 2 tablespoons lukewarm water*

*Use the lesser amount in summer (or in a humid environment), the greater amount in winter (or in a dry climate), and somewhere in between the rest of the year, or if your house is climate controlled.

2 large sweet onions
28-ounce can chopped or diced tomatoes
1 large green pepper, diced (optional)
1/2 pound sausage, browned (optional)
2 cups shredded mozzarella
4 ounces provolone, shredded
3/4 to 1 cup freshly shredded Parmesan cheese
3 cups coarse dried bread crumbs, such as Panko
6 tablespoons olive oil

1) To make the crust: Combine all of the ingredients and mix and knead to make a smooth, soft dough, using a stand mixer, bread machine, or your hands.

2) Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl or large 8-cup measure (or leave it in the bread machine), and let it rise till it's very puffy, about 90 minutes.

3) While the dough is rising, prepare the toppings. Start by peeling and slicing the onions and peppers, and frying them with a bit of olive oil till they're golden brown. This will take about 20 minutes. Midway through, add salt and sugar to taste, if desired; about 1 tablespoon sugar will heighten their flavor.

4) Add the tomatoes to the fried onions. Simmer and stir for a couple of minutes. If the sauce seems overly liquid, continue to cook till it's firmed up a bit. You don't want it totally dry, like scrambled eggs, but neither do you want it swimming in liquid. Use your judgment. Turn off the heat, mix in the browned sausage, and let the mixture cool while the dough rises.

5) Stir together the bread crumbs and oil. Set it aside.

6) Spray a large rimmed baking sheet (a 13" x 18" half sheet pan is perfect) with non-stick vegetable oil spray. Drizzle it with olive oil, tilting the pan so the oil spreads out a bit.

7) Gently deflate the risen dough, and stretch it into an oval in your hands. Plop the oval onto the baking sheet, and press it towards the edges. When it starts to fight back, walk away for 15 minutes. When you return, you should be able to press it to the edges and nearly into the corners. If you can't, give it another short rest, and try again. You want the dough to cover as much of the pan's bottom as possible (without making yourself too crazy about it).

8) Cover the dough, and let it rise till puffy, about 90 minutes. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 425°F. (Don't expect much rising here. A few bubbles was all I got.)

9) Uncover the dough, and sprinkle it with the shredded mozzarella and provolone. Then spread the tomato/onion sauce over the cheese.

10) Top with the Parmesan, then the bread crumbs.

11) Bake the pizza for 35 minutes, or until the crust and crumbs are brown. Remove it from the oven, and serve it hot or warm. Hint: to prevent a soggy bottom crust, cut the pizza in half crosswise, then lift each half onto a cooling rack. Cut individual slices with a pair of scissors.

For more great recipes head over to Tempt My Tummy Tuesdays or Tuesdays at the Table. And if you're really hungry take a look at King Arthur Flour's blog too.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Manic Monday

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Poison of Apple Pie

This quote from John Piper has been on my mind ever since I heard it in a sermon several weeks ago. Are you turning any of God's gifts or simple pleasures into gods?

"The greatest enemy for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for the banquet of heaven but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not the x-rated video but the primetime dribble of triviality we drink in every night. The greatest adversary of love to God is not his enemy but his gifts. The most deadly appetites are not for the poison of evil but for the simple pleasures of earth. For when these replace an appetite for God himself, the idolatry is scarcely recognizable. These are not evil in themselves. These are not vices. These are gifts of God. They are your basic meat and potatoes, coffee and gardening, reading and decorating, traveling and investing, TV watching and internet surfing, shopping and exercising, collecting and talking....and all of them can become deadly substitutes for God."

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Black Beans and Rice

In an effort to drop a dress size by Easter I am back to my dieting ways. All of my exercising allows me to eat pretty much whatever I want and maintain my weight but I can't lose any weight (or inches) just by exercising. So it's back to counting points (Weight Watchers) and avoiding carbs....for the most part.

With this in mind I am posting one of my favorite Weight Watchers meals today: Black Beans and Rice. It is really delicious, easy to make and only 9 points per serving. That's pretty good for an entire meal.

Black Beans and Rice (Source: Weight Watchers New Complete Cookbook)

4 tsp. olive oil
1 green bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
5-6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
16 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 cup low sodium chicken broth
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. hot pepper sauce
1/2 c. water
1 Tbsp. cilantro, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
4 cups cooked brown rice

In a medium nonstick pan, heat the oil. Saute the bell pepper, onion and garlic until very soft, about 15 minutes. Stir in the beans, tomatoes, broth, bay leaf, oregano, pepper sauce and water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens and vegetables are tender, about 45 minutes.

Stir in cilantro and season with the salt and pepper; discard the bay leaf. Serve over the rice.

This post is linked to Tempt My Tummy Tuesdays and Tuesdays at the Table. Check there for more great recipes.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Manic Monday

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Snow Day

Ah....the first snow day of the school year. A day of briefly using the whole fam to de-clutter the house and then sitting around doing nothing while the kids play. Well, not exactly nothing. I got to sit and read all of my favorite blogs.

Our DSL has been messed up for a month or so and it kicks us off every 5 minutes so reading blogs is so infuriating that it isn't even worth it. But today magically it has been working for hours. Maybe it likes snow as much as I do. I don't know, but I do know that I've missed all my bloggy friends.

I've found 10 new recipes, 3 new craft ideas, and 1 great joke today. I've also watched all 6 LOST previews and caught up with antics of my young nieces and nephews far away. What seems like a waste of time has really been a very productive morning....well, for a snow day anyway.

I had time to read the blogs because I finished my book last night. Gasp! I had nothing to read today. I was unmotivated to go to the library but when Brian decided to brave the weather and go get some milk (apparently we were the only people in town that didn't go get a gallon yesterday) I charged him with bringing me home some reading material. Boy, did he.

He brought me a biography of Teddy Roosevelt entitled "Wilderness Warrior". An 817 page biography of ole Teddy. Wow. I'm looking forward to starting it. Here's hoping I'm not looking forward to ending it 10 minutes later. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

So Many Books To Read, So Little Time

Well, since it is a new year that means it is time for a new reading list. I feel like I didn't get much read in 2009 but when I look back over the list I certainly read a wide variety of literature. My new lisst for 2010 will be on my sidebar and you can still see reviews from everything I've read in 2008 and 2009 if you follow the links.

I ended 2009 with an excellent book entitiled, "Born to Run". The book begins with the author asking the question, "Why does my foot hurt?" and ends with him running in $10 shoes through the maze-like canyons of the Copper Canyons in Mexico as he discovers just how and why human beings were born to run. I highly recommend this book to anyone who run recreationally. It will change everything you think about running and convince you to run more....not less. But even if you aren't in to running this is a good read. The characters that McDougall meets along his journey are larger than life than extremely interesting. He writes with humor and skill and made the entire book (even the scientific explanations) a page turner. I give it a perfect 10.

My first book of 2010 was "The Constant Princess" by Phillippa Gregory. I've read several of her books and I have thoroughly enjoyed all of them. She writes about the British royal family of the 16th and 17th century. The constant princess refers to Katherine of Aragon and her 2nd husband King Henry the 8th. Their relationship is a stark contrast to the relationship we know that he had with his other wives and it is interesting to see how his life as a boy and the early days of his reign made him in to the deadly husband he later became. Of course the author guesses at many of the personal relationships of her characters but all the events of the book are based on historical fact. I recommend any Gregory book for readers who like to educate themselves while being caught up in a great story at the same time.

I'm currently reading "Healing Stones" by Nancy Rue and Stephen Arterburn. I"ll have a review of that up soon. Just watch the sidebar.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Rollo Cookies

I had some of these cookies at a Christmas party this year and had to find the recipe. They are a soft chewy chocolate cookie with a caramel center and a coating of sugar on the outside. The only thing I had to go on was a little girl saying, "My mommy made those. They have Rollos in the middle."

A short Google search revealed two basic recipes; one with peanut butter and one without. I made the plain chocolate cookie dough because my husband does not like peanut butter and my nephew is allergic. They were delicious and very easy. My kids did all of the Rollo unwrapping and cookie rolling too.

Rollo Cookies

3 cups flour, enough so dough is not sticky
3/4 cup cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup margarine
2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
48 rollo chewy carmels

additional sugar

Beat sugars and margarine until fluffy, add eggs and vanilla and beat well. Add flour, cocoa and baking soda and blend well. Cover and cool dough in fridge for about 1/2 hour.

Shape into1" ball around Rollo, covering it completely. Roll each ball in sugar. Place 2 inches apart on a cookies sheet. They will flatten and spread as they bake. Bake 8 minutes at 350*, DO NOT OVER BAKE, they will look quite soft. Cool in pan slightly then move to a piece of waxed paper. Cool completely. You can melt white chocolate and drizzle over top or eat as is.

For more great recipes check out Tempt My Tummy Tuesdays and Tuesdays at the Table.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Manic Monday

Friday, January 1, 2010

2010 Reading List

Here are the book reviews for every book I've read this year.

The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean: was our most recent book club choice. This book was the inspiration for the movie "Adaptation" starring Nicholas Cage. It is a very interesting book about, well orchids. It may be a little too academic for some, but I loved the long descriptions of colonial Florida and the history of orchid hunting around the world. (As a matter of fact I suggested that Brian assign this book as one of his summer reading assignments for his Advanced Placement Biology class. It's that botanically centered.) The battles between the current orchid growers/collectors/thieves and the United States Government and Seminole Indians were fascinating to read about too. The book follows the real life struggles of John Laroche, an eccentric orchid lover, greenhouse manager, and lovable anarchist. He is one of the most bizarre characters you'll ever meet and the world of orchids is almost as strange. My only complaint about the book is that it has no pictures. The descriptions of the millions of species of orchids are wonderful but I was longing for some good pictures. I give this book a B.

Under Orders by Dick Francis: I've been reading Dick Francis books for years. There are dozens of them out there and they are all centered around the British horse racing world. As an ex-jockey, Francis writes wonderfully about the life he knows. In this book his ex=jockey hero, Sid Halley, is once again using his tenacity and private detective skills to solve a racetrack murder. I learned more about off track betting and online gambling in this book than I ever wanted to know. The Francis books are always quick, entertaining reads, perfect for an airplane or a beach chair. Grab any one of them and you'll enjoy it. A

Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry: This was my pick for book club. Of the three books I've chosen so far, all of them have been complete snoozers. It's horrible. I chose this book because I read a review about it that compared it to Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, which I absolutely loved. This book was nothing like Gilead. The writing was very 'stream of consciousness' and it felt like the author was trying to get all of his political, religious and social views in to one book and he didn't care if there was much of a story there to move it along. The only redeeming factor in this book is that it is set in a rural farming community in the 1920s-1960s so it was a complete reflection of the lives of my grandparents and my dad. I really enjoyed all of the farming descriptions and the small town social dynamics that I've heard described by my grandpa hundreds of times in stories about "the old days". But if you weren't raised by a couple of farmers you probably wouldn't enjoy it much at all. I'd say this book barely gets a D from me.

Past Imperfect by Julian Fellowes: This is one of those books I grabbed quickly from the shelf because I was in between book club selections and it had an interesting cover. Turns out it was pretty good. The book is set in England in the 1960s, an era I know nothing about. Apparently this was the time when the aristocracy lost all of their social power because everyone realized that new money (made by actual work) was just as good as old money (inherited along with a title). The story revolves around a middle aged man that must go back and visit several of his friends from his past in order to investigate and event that took place when they were all running around together being irresponsible teenagers. I found the book to be informative, interesting and entertaining. B+

The Shack by William Young: I may be one of the last people on the planet to read this book so this review may be of no interest to most of you but.....I loved this book. It really challenged me to reexamine my relationship with God and my view of his attitude/love toward me. The expressions of love between God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and man in this book were so beautiful. I know that some people are bothered by a) the rape and murder of a child and b) the female personification of God in the book, but neither one of those effected my enjoyment of the book. If you have ever struggled with the question "Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?" then you should read this book. A+

Theodore Roosevelt: Wilderness Warrior by Daniel Brinkley: I absolutely loved this biography. It was LONG (as a matter of fact I didn't finish it because I had to return it to the library) and very slow in parts but the amount of information in this book, not only about Teddy Roosevelt himself, but about our country in the post Civil War and turn of the century days was truly remarkable. I really fell in love with Teddy and his off beat set of friends of enemies in the political realms of New York City and D.C. Reading about the beginnings of places I have been and loved (Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Badlands) was really awesome. I highly recommend this book for the serious reader. A+

The Camel Club by David Baldacci: This book was very slow in the beginning and I didn't really get into the story until at least halfway through. It was a typical legal thriller set in D.C., full of hidden murders, conspiracies that reach the White House and a socially inept band of honest detectives on the case. I give it a C.

The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory. Click here for review.

Pottery Barn Knock Off

Let's start the new year with a craft project, shall we?

I made these two adorable wall hangings for my nieces.
The pictures are atrocious but you get the idea. I made one for Kate too, but forgot to take a picture of that one.
It was one of the simplest projects (and quickest) I've ever done. I just printed out the letters in reverse on plain white paper. I then taped them on to the back of the patterned paper (which I had SO much fun picking out at Archivers) and cut them out.

I used punches and brads to make the flowers and stars that I adhered to a few letters and then attached the letters to the ribbon with more brads. I think the cutting took longer than everything else, but the entire project took less than an hour.

The best part is this was the perfect gift to ship. I just carefully folded the ribbon and stacked the letters on top of each other and slipped them in a manila envelope. Voila, they were in Florida two days later for just a buck or two.

I think I need to make one of these for Kinley's room too. I have some big paper maiche letters to decorate and hang on her wall but this is so much easier.