Thursday, January 28, 2016

WyldLife Pets Product Review

     Hi everyone!  Today is a pretty exciting day for me.  I completed my very first product review video.  It's been quite the roller coaster ride and my husband had to convince me that I would not feel better if I threw my computer through the bay window in our living room.  I'm glad I finished the review and decided that I would share it with everyone here.  (I'm also glad that I kept my computer in tact.)

     First, let me tell you about WyldLife Pets.  They are a small company that is selling chew treats for dogs on Amazon.  Matt Baugh is one of the Co-Founders and he and I met when he offered me the opportunity to review his products.  I always like to give my business to the little guys whenever I can, but I especially like to do this for the companies that take exceptionally good care of their customers.  WyldLife Pets is one of those companies.  And Matt has been an absolute delight to work with. It doesn't hurt things that they are selling a terrific product. 

     If you have a dog, you have probably purchased a large assortment of chewy treats searching for the best product for him or her.  I know I have.  There are pros and cons to all of the different chews on the market and I found myself settling for different things that met "a lot" of my needs in dog chews.  Some were cheaper, some were healthier, some lasted longer, and some didn't smell bad, but none were quite right. 

     That brings us to WyldLife Pets Bully Sticks & Beef Tendons Combo Pack.  This product has been fantastic.  It's perfectly healthy to give to your dog.  The odor is a natural beefy scent that doesn't get overwhelming or obnoxious when your dog is really going to town with his chewing.  I haven't had any problems at all with it upsetting my dog's tummy.  This has been a serious problem for us in the past.  (Yes, I'm talking about rawhide chews.)

     But the best feature of all is how long these chews last in comparison with their price.  I have found that it takes my dog about 2 hours to chew through one bully stick.  It takes him an average of 1 hour to chew through each beef tendon.  Those are long lasting chews.  And with the beef tendon, my dog was so exhausted after chewing one for an hour that he napped for the rest of the afternoon.  He was too content and too tired to even think about causing any kind of trouble. 

     Now, let's do the math.  If I purchase the 15 pack of chews for $29.95, I get 8 bully sticks and 7 beef tendons.  That gives my dog 23 hours of chewing, which breaks down to only $1.30 per hour cost for these treats.  You can't beat that price with a bully stick! 

     Of course, I have to tell you that I got my first bag at a serious discount in exchange for writing an Amazon review of the product.  However, making a product review video and a blog post was not part of the deal.  I'm sharing this information because I love the product that much.  And so does Capone!  Take a moment to watch our review video.  I'm new to this and still learning to edit video, but who cares when there's a cute puppy chasing a chewy around the room, right?  Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

25 Projects to Knit or Crochet for Valentine's Day

     Valentine's Day is three weeks away.  That's just enough time to whip up some terrific Valentine items.  Whether you knit or crochet, you will find some great projects on the list.  There are mittens, hats, small stuffed animals, and a few other odds n ends.  All of the patterns are found on Ravelry and all of them are free.  You will need to set up an account, if you don't already have one, but that's free too.

Cupid's Cloche - A cute crochet hat by Lorene Haythorn
Java Love - A knitted cup cozy by Diane Pearl Kostecki
Heart Mittens - Lovely two colored knitted mittens with a heart pattern by Pitsia ja palmikoita
Dead Heart - A knitted beanie hat with skulls and hearts.  Would make a great gift for that hard to please teenager.  By Corrvin Smith
Candy Hearts Coaster - A simple crochet coaster with a heart in the center and a matching ruffle edge.  These would be a quick project to set about the house and make things feel more festive.  By Doni Speigle Designs Ravelry Store
Keep Me Searching For a Heart of Gold - Lovely knitted Valentine socks by Melanie Starke
Circle of Love Afghan - A gorgeous heart themed, crocheted, round afghan by Tamara Kelly
Hot Chocolate Amigurumi - How about an adorable crocheted cup of hot chocolate with a cookie and marshmallows.  I know so many young children who would love this set by Amigurumi Food.
Valentino - We don't want to forget our furry friends with this adorable knitted heart themed dog sweater by Drops Design.
Happy Hearts Afghan WT1659 - Another lovely crocheted heart themed afghan.  This one is worked in small squares that are assembled into an afghan. by Alison Grenier
The Heart of the Mitten - Knitted mittens with a heart pattern, but this one has a row of larger hearts running down the center instead of small ones scattered around.  by Drops Design
Knitted Barbie Valentines Hearts Dress Pattern - This adorable knitted doll dress with hearts will be a big hit for anyone in your life who is a fan of Barbie.  By AllCrafts
Ruby's Valentine Doily - I remember my great grandmother's house had doilies on just about every surface.  I still appreciate the old fashioned beauty of a hand crocheted doily sometimes.  This lovely red and white ruffled doily would bring a little Valentine's festivity to a side table.  By Elizabeth Ann White.
Love-A-Saurus Dino Hat - Any young child would look just adorable in this dinosaur hat.  It can also be crocheted in other colors to wear any time of the year. By Too Yarn Cute  
Granny's Valentine Bag - A small bag to carry things is always nice.  This one uses a basic granny square motif and Valentine colors to bring together an adorable little bag that could have numerous uses.  By Ana Clerc
Be My Valentine - Knitted socks with a Valentine theme.  Instead of colorwork, these socks are made using cable stitches, ribbing, and twisted stitches to form a beautiful heart motif running up the center of the sock.  By Sharon Bird
Be My Valentine Throw - This red and white throw by Roseanna Beck is smaller than the others I have listed.  Just crochet and snuggle underneath with your sweetheart.
Mini Valentine's Day Puppy - Children love to be a part of Valentine's Day, too.  How about an adorable little white puppy with pink or red heart accents?  This crochet puppy should come together fairly quickly and make any child happy.  By Melissa's Crochet Patterns
My Slouchy Valentine - A stylish slouchy hat by Michelle Ransome, this knitted hat will make anyone look quite festive.
Happy Valentine's Day Hat  - There are so many different styles of hat that I had to include an assortment.  This one is a fitted crochet hat.  The original design uses a lovely variegated yarn for the main color.  By Amy O'Neill Houck
Valentine Heart Scarf - This crochet scarf got my attention because of the creative use of the bobble stitches to make the heart design.  It is a attractive and subtle design that could actually be worn all winter.  By Bernat Design Studio
Valentine's Kitty Hat - If the dinosaur hat wasn't ideal for your child, perhaps a kitty hat would be more to their liking.  I'm just crazy about this little hat and the curled design on the straps add a beautiful element.  Crochet design by Teri Heathcote
Valentine's Tablecloth - If you want to go all out for your Valentine's decorations, may I suggest a beautiful, hand crocheted tablecloth.  I don't normally put so much work into a project like this, but I must admit that I would love to see it on my table for a couple weeks out of the year. by Bernat Design Studio
Valentine's Mittens - The last set of mittens I have chosen are designed by Elisabeth Sliney Marino.  These are also a knitted pair, but this design has closed hearts, a chain pattern around the wrist and then stripes leading to the edge.  They are a bit less girly than the other pairs that I have listed, but still have plenty of Valentine's Oomf.
0-611 Head Over Heels for You - The final pattern on my list is a pair of knitted socks that have been waiting around in my favorites folder on Ravelry for over a year now.  These are available by Drops Design.  They have a large assortment of heart designs, color reversals, stripes, and other interesting design elements. 

     I have decided that it's time to get knitting.  I'm going to make the Head Over Heels Socks.  How about you?  Are you up to the challenge?  I'll bet there's someone special in your life who would really appreciate a handmade gift this Valentines. 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Simple Dog Sweater

     All the cold weather this week has been big news.  When I heard that we had some temperatures in the teens coming, I decided that the puppy I care for needed a warmer sweater.  I also decided that I was going to make this sweater using the supplies that I already had around the house.  I wanted it to be extra warm and to knit up fast.  That made a bulky yarn the ideal choice and I had a few partial skeins in my stash.  There wasn't enough of any one color to make a sweater, but by creatively combining the three colors on hand, I was able to knit up a cute little sweater and it took me just a few hours.

       I made this sweater on the fly and the pattern is for a small dog (10 lbs).  It's the first knitting pattern I have ever written up to share.  If you have any problems with the pattern, please don't hesitate to email me and I will be happy to provide any help I can.  I hope you enjoy the pattern and that your dog stays nice and warm.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Enjoying the Winter Storms?

     Talk about the ultimate back to basics scenario!  I am living in the middle of an ice storm.  And as I watch the freezing rain, I wait to see if my power will be knocked out.  It's all a question of how much ice accumulates on the power lines and trees.  According to the winter storm warning that is in effect for my area, this is a very real possibility.  Hopefully with a bit of preparedness planning and a smidge of common sense, we will weather this storm without any major problems.

     My first concern will be keeping the family warm.  Because I have a fireplace, this is an extremely manageable proposition.  Throughout the year, I always save up my newspapers as they arrive.  Recycle all of the high gloss ads and such, but keep the basic newspaper.  It piles up in a corner by the fireplace so that I will have plenty of easy fire starter supplies when winter comes.  Next is the basic firewood.  If you do a little bit of shopping around, you can purchase firewood pretty cheap.  I get mine from a local woodyard for $.05 per pound.  The reason it's so cheap is because I have to haul it all myself, but quite worthwhile when trying to live on a budget.  And finally, kindling is the all-important item to get that wood burning well.  I generally fill up a few plastic tubs with kindling when I pick up my firewood, but there never quite seems to be enough lying around when it's time for a big ice storm.  Yesterday I went around the neighborhood picking up dead branches that had fallen and spent an hour or so cutting them down to manageable pieces with my pruning shears.  So, with all of my fireplace supplies moved into the house and ready to go, the next concern will be keeping my family fed. 

     The nice difference between an ice storm and the hurricanes I used to deal with in Florida, is that I'm not worried about all the the food in my refrigerator and freezers going bad in the event of an extended power outage.  Unfortunately, while cold cereal and peanut butter and jelly are fine during an August hurricane, I imagine we will want something hot to eat during the next couple of cold winter days.  As long as the power stays on, this won't be a problem.  But how can we have a hot meal with no electricity and without standing outside by a BBQ grill?  We will have to make use of the fireplace.  That's why I bought some heavy duty aluminum foil.  In the event of a power outage, I can cut up some chicken, potatoes, and other vegetables.  Sprinkle them with a little bit of olive oil and some seasonings, and then wrap them tightly in a couple layers of aluminum foil.  My fire should be going good by the time I am ready to cook and there should be plenty of coals in the bottom of the fireplace.  So, I can tuck our little dinner packets into the coals and allow them to cook for a half hour or so.  Any easy, nutritious dinner, even under adverse circumstances.

     I have piles of crocheted and knitted blankets in the linen closet and we can move the sofas close to the fireplace so everyone can sit together and keep warm.  There might even be some marshmallows in the pantry for roasting.  There are lots of candles around the house which can provide additional light and heat, but flashlights are a safe bet for when I have to wander away from our warm little family nest.

     You know...  the Lord has provided me with a roof over my head, food in the pantry, plenty of wood and blankets for warmth.  As much as we hate for these storms to come through and no one wants to see anyone suffer hardships and difficulties, I am finding a bit of a blessing in this situation right now.  Long ago, families sitting together around a fire was a normal evening activity.  Today, it's difficult to shut down the computers, video games, and televisions long enough to enjoy this experience.  Perhaps God is actually giving us all a moment to pause together and appreciate the small things in life that most of us take for granted - shelter, food, warmth, and love.  I say we should take advantage of the opportunity and make the most of this time waiting out the storms.

     Add to the comments any ideas you have to get through times when you are waiting out a storm or getting by without electricity.  I'm sure we could all use a few more suggestions.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

What's a Well Kept House Without a Well Loved Family?

     My last blog post was about making room amid all of my plans for the things that God has planned for me.  Since that post, I have spent much of my time dealing with some health issues in my husband's life, some sudden changes in my son's homeschool plan, and some general crises in our lives.  I suppose maybe that was the Lord's way of putting an exclamation point on my last post.  Whatever the reason for these developments, my attention has been drawn very strongly to my family right now and I wanted to share a little bit of what I have been thinking.

     I feel a great need to shout to the world how lucky I am to have such a terrific husband who I love and who loves me too.  You know, there have been a number of controversial statements made during the last couple of years on the subject of an ideal wife.  There have been loads of offended people admonishing these statements on the internet.  I seem to recall something about a man listing foot massages from a woman being highly desirable.  And the outrage ensued.  Well, after facing new concerns regarding my husband's well-being, and finding myself incredibly grateful to be told that there's no reason I shouldn't get to keep him with me for a long time to come, I feel a need to be a better wife.

     There is a lesson in the Bible that is popular among believers and non-believers alike.  Luke 6:31(NIV) says "Do to others as you would have them do to you."  The first person that comes to mind when I hear this is my husband. So, while lots of people are outraged at the suggestion that giving their husband a foot massage would make them a better wife, let me ask you this question...  Would you enjoy being surprised with a foot massage after a long day on your feet?  I certainly would.  So, why shouldn't our husbands feel that same way?

     Right now I would like to find some extra ways to show my husband how much I love and appreciate him.  Wouldn't you?  If your answer is no because he has done something to displease you and you aren't feeling especially generous towards him at the moment, consider this - maybe if you show him how much you love and appreciate him, he will be encouraged to do the same.

     I feel like housekeeping isn't worth much without a loving family with which to share it. If the people in the house don't feel loved, then who cares how clean and tidy the place is.  So, how about we take the most basic of common sense steps and take a moment to show the people who share our home with us how much we love them and how happy we are to have them with us.

     During the next couple of weeks, I would like to share some ideas for Valentine's Day.  Maybe we can make some plans together for ways to surprise our loved ones.  I'm starting early.  I'm going to tell my husband how happy I am to have him.  Maybe I'll even give him one of those dreaded foot massages that offend so many people.  Who knows where that might lead...  Right?

Monday, January 11, 2016

When to Adjust Our Plans

     You've heard me say plenty of times that I love a good plan.  Organization!  Checklists!  Schedules!  Routines!  All these things make life so much easier.  When I go to bed at night, I want to feel certain that I got everything done for the day and to know exactly what I need to do when I get up in the morning.  It's a wonderful feeling.  Until a wrench is thrown into the wheels of all that good planning.

     Being organized is a wonderful thing.  Unfortunately, I have found that many of us who are excessively organized don't adapt well when our neat, orderly schedule is disrupted with unexpected intrusions.  I know that I don't take kindly to it and sometimes even take it out on people around me.

     Lately, I have been a great big grump because my life is not going according to my plan.  My husband has been working from home a lot lately.  My son is struggling with some of his classes this year.  The weather has been uncooperative with my exercise plans.  And it feels as if little gremlins are causing troubles in much of my day to day life. All of these things are interfering with the timely completion of items on my checklist.

     It occurs to me, though...  I'm not the only one with a plan.  God has a plan and his is perfect.  It would seem that his plan includes me spending extra time with my son talking about Chemistry and swapping out his literature plan to include a book or two that are just fun to read and don't make some grand statement.  I think God's plan might include hubby and I spending more time together - which will mean an adjustment to my schedule.  And sometimes it looks like he plans for me to spend a little time with a neighbor when I go out walking - despite the fact that I want to get back to finish my chores by some arbitrary time.

     I think I get grumpy about these things because I view them as a distraction from what I had planned to do.  Instead, I think I need to learn how to make room in my schedule for God's plans to squeeze right in there with my own - or, more appropriately, for my plans to squeeze in with his.  Some days I might even get lucky and find that my plans overlap with God's.  The more I give priority to other people over the exacting standards that I expect for my floors and laundry, the more I will probably find my plans overlapping with the Lord's.

     You know, I spent a lot of time in December making the perfect planner book for 2016.  I have no doubt that it will keep me on track with my goals and on time for my appointments.  I'm glad I have that planner book.  I feel like now I'm being called to spend a bit more time in another book - The Bible.  Because, yes, we were made to work, but Jesus made it very clear that we were made to love.  At this time of year it's so easy to get caught up in the work part because there are so many goals that we want to achieve.  Let's make sure that we don't lose focus on all the people that need our love right now. 

Friday, January 8, 2016

Cheap and Tasty Snacks When You Are Flat Broke!

     Have you had those moments when you look around the kitchen wishing there was something to snack on?  Or worse, when the kids come in asking for snacks when this week's budget just didn't have room for extras?  I have a teenage son, so it happens around here a lot.  Some days it feels like I'm throwing food into a bottomless pit! 

     This week our budget was extra tight, and my son was extra hungry.  I looked around the kitchen and suddenly realized that all of the fruit, crackers, and chips were gone.  It's growth spurt time again.  I'm telling you... this boy is going to be seven feet tall if he doesn't stop growing like this.  But, it doesn't change the fact that I need to get some snacks in the house fast and I can't afford another run to the grocery store.  It's time to check my staples.

     There are always potatoes.  That's an easy one.  In fact, I should probably put my foot down and stop allowing my husband and son to buy bags of potato chips anyway.  I turned on the fryer, tossed a pot of water on the stove, and grabbed the mandolin from the cabinet.  It took me just a minute to slice the potatoes into thick chips.  (Don't forget to use the safety handle on your mandolin.  Days like this I would lose a finger without it.)  I was able to move on to other things while my potatoes took a quick dunk in the boiling water, followed by two quick dunks in the fryer.  Fresh potato chips made for a very happy family in just about 20 minutes.  Plus, good for me, most of that time was spent fussing with other things in the kitchen while I waited for the timers I set to tell me when to move my chips from one pot to the next.

     I knew that, although potato chips would make my son and hubby happy for a while, I was going to need a tasty snack for the next day, too.  Soft pretzels to the rescue!  I've adapted Guy Fieri's soft pretzel recipe to work for me.  I don't worry about the agave nectar and I substitute in whatever flour I happen to have on hand at the time.  It works just fine.  We are talking about flour, yeast, water, eggs and salt.  Basic stuff.  I tend to add in a little garlic powder and onion powder with the mix to make things a bit more interesting.  But the bottom line is that with some basic staples on hand, I can always throw together a pleasing snack for my teenage son.  (His friends always love these too.  And they are convinced I am a super cool mom who makes these pretzels because everyone loves them so much - not because I am frantically searching for something to make super cheap with what is on hand in the pantry.)

     Finally, I was hearing grumblings about not having anything sweet in the house this week.  Oh, the horror!  Didn't everyone have enough sweets during the month of December?  Apparently not!  So, a speedy internet search for a cookie recipe that could make use of the cocoa powder I had on hand, but no butter.  Voila! I found a website called Averie Cooks and she had this terrific recipe.  Thick and Soft Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies  I had all the ingredients on hand (although it depleted my peanut butter stockpile a bit) and it was an easy fix for my son's sweet tooth.

     Yes, I spent more time in the kitchen than I had planned that day.  And, of course, there are healthier snacks in the world.  But sometimes moms are in a pinch and we need to make due with what we have.  This week, the ingredients on hand made potato chips, soft pretzels, and chocolate peanut butter cookies.  If I do say so myself, I think we ate pretty darned well if you consider my budget limitations.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Does It Really Take Forever to Make Bread?

     I have been toying with the idea of making my own bread from scratch.  Although I frequently make pizza dough and have made soft baked pretzels many times in the past, I was dreading the idea of making my own bread.  Why?  Because it takes forever.  That's a pretty reasonable feeling when you consider that bread recipes frequently list the prep time as multiple hours. 

     Like everything else in life, though, I believe that this question of whether or not baking takes too long is a matter of perspective.  If you want to make a sandwich right this minute, then having fresh baked bread in a few hours is definitely going to seem like an unreasonable amount of time.  However, consider the possibility that you would like to have bread with your dinner and it's only 10:00am.  Suddenly there are other factors to consider.  Most importantly, how many of these hours are spent actually working on making the bread.  In most cases, I am finding that the answer is surprisingly little time.

     This morning I checked my food planner and saw that we were scheduled to have BBQ Pork Sandwiches for dinner tonight.  I had everything I needed on hand, except the buns.  You can call me a big baby if you want, but I didn't want to make a trip to the grocery store while it was 40 degrees out just to pick up some hamburger buns.  So, I decided that today was the day to put my bread making plan to the test.  Let's find out once and for all whether I can truly consider taking my kitchen all the way back to basics and actually make my bread from scratch. 

     I found a recipe online at All Recipes.  It was pretty basic and straight forward and had good reviews.  So, I got down to work.  The recipe I used can be found here.  First I had to get my yeast started.  This is basic stuff that is part of any recipe that calls for yeast.  I use it enough that I am able to prep the yeast in a matter of moments. 

     Once that was busy fermenting, I was able to prep my other ingredients.  Melt a little butter.  Stir in some eggs, salt and sugar.  Quick and easy stuff.  By the time I had my other ingredients prepped, the yeast was ready to go.  So, I poured the egg mixture in and let my whisk run for a few seconds. 

     Next, I switched out my kitchen aid attachments.  For a beginner, this might take a moment, but after a few years of experience with my kitchen aid, this step was measured in seconds.  Dump in the flour and turn it on.  I was able to clean up all of my dishes (not that there were many) while my dough hook did all the work for me.  The dough and I were ready at about the same time.  A little bit of kneading, rub the bowl with a little oil, and Plop!  The dough is ready to rise.  That was about 10-15 minutes worth of work before I get to walk away and ignore things for about two hours.  I'm good with that.  I did my part, so let's let the yeast do it's part.

     Two hours later, I  punch the dough down and dump it on a lightly floured counter.  I think the process of turning the dough into 8 round bun shapes took me a total of 10 minutes including covering them and cleaning the bowl.  Again, I get to walk away and ignore them for another half hour.  Then, the final step was a quick egg wash and into the oven where they baked for 15 minutes. 

     All in all, I probably put a half hour into my freshly made hamburger buns.  Is that much time?  Again, it depends on your perspective.  It would have taken me almost that long to drive to the grocery store and pick up a package of buns.  And my family all agrees that those don't taste nearly as good as the ones I made today. 

     My final assessment is that it was worth the effort and didn't take much time.  I actually feel a bit silly for being concerned about the practicality of baking my own bread.  Of course, I still need to look at the price difference, but I prefer to consider that factor as I get more comfortable with different types of bread and all the different possibilities available as far as preparing dough in bulk and possibly freezing loaves.  For now, I plan to keep moving forward.  How about you?  Aren't you just a little bit curious about what a hamburger tastes like on fresh homemade buns?  Give it a try and let me know how it works out for you.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Why The New Year Isn't About New Year's Resolutions

     The beginning of a new year is a wonderful thing.  In a way, it is similar to when we turn to Jesus.  Because he died on the cross for us, when we repent of our sins and ask forgiveness, we are given a clean slate.  We become perfect in God's eyes, free from any blemish.  Each year, when January 1 rolls around, people see another type of clean slate.  It's not a religious thing.  It's just human nature to appreciate the opportunity that a fresh start affords us.  And a new year is a type of fresh start.

     It's a beautiful thing that I hate to see cheapened by lame resolutions.  We promise to do the same things that we promised to do last year.  Most people didn't follow through on them in the past, and they won't follow through on them again this year. And by the end of the month what started out as a clean slate has been spoiled because we failed to do what we resolved to do on January 1.  So, we move through the next 11 months waiting for that opportunity to return.

     I am excited to begin a new year with a fresh, blank planner book.  I'm looking forward to all of the amazing changes that I'm going to continue making in my house this year.  And I'll just bet that if you look at your own life, you will see the same thing.  There is something you have done that is making you feel really fantastic.  It doesn't have to be moving a mountain.  Maybe you just changed your diet a bit, or you started an organization project in your garage.  Whatever it is, you have a beautiful, fresh new year to keep it going.  Just think.  If you accomplished that much last year, how much can you accomplish this year?  Let's all keep going together!

     Instead of making resolutions, let's make plans!  Instead of filling January with drastic changes that aren't likely to stick around, let's fill the entire year with small goals that will ensure that on December 31 we will see a grand year of progress in our lives!  Are you ready to get started?  Let's go!  Make plans!  Set goals!  Be specific!  But, most importantly, remember that you are starting out with a fresh New Year!  Make the most of the entire year, not just the first few weeks.