Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Read For Your Health - A Challenge To Myself.....

A friend and I were looking at a list of Oprah’s Book Club books recently, and we were shocked to find that we had only read a few of the 65-plus books on the list. These are not slouchy books – they are some of the best literature of the last hundred years or so. Unlike the best-seller lists, which can be unreliable at times, Oprah’s list contains the books that are considered among the greatest of what our American writers have to offer.  My friend and I consider ourselves fairly well-read - at least we did before we looked at Oprah's list.

In the past I have concentrated on biographies, history and the occasional historical novel, but I feel a need to widen my horizons and concentrate on novels for the next year or so.

The challenge to myself is to read (or listen to) at least one Oprah Book Club book per month and report on each one in a Wednesday post. For at least a year. Starting in April.

I know, I know, some people blow through four or five novels every month, but I have this pesky job that keeps getting in the way of things I really need to do. Then there’s the blog, family and all those other little things that make up life. My “reading” is often limited to listening to the book on my I-Pod while commuting to and from work and on my two-hour trek to Mom’s every other weekend.

So, given my current schedule, I am going to set the bar low enough so that I might actually be able to sail over it. One book a month, and a Wednesday report.

Anyone want to join me? Next week I will post the entire Oprah Book Club list. Give it a shot – what do you have to lose? You might just get a little smarter in the process!

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Monday Recipe Blog

Hello, and how is your Monday?  We are finally rounding the corner into Spring.  Here is another recipe that you can prepare before you go to work in the morning and when you get home - dinner's (almost) ready!  Hope you have a crock-pot, because you need one for this recipe....I've been on a crock-pot kick lately.

Crock-Pot Chicken and Dressing

Here’s another slow cooker recipe that you can prepare in the morning and by dinnertime, you have a terrific meal. The chicken underneath the dressing is very moist and tender – it will fall apart as you are serving it!

I have not prepared this with no-fat milk, but doing this would make a good chicken meal even more healthy. Also, if you can find low-sodium Cream of Celery Soup, that will add to the healthy advantage, since we all need less sodium in our lives.

Whip up a salad and add a vegetable and you will have a great Crock-Pot Chicken and Dressing dinner!

4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves

Cream of Celery Soup – 10 3/4 oz. can

1/3 cup milk

1 box Stove Top Stuffing Mix

1 cup water

Place the chicken in the slow cooker.

Mix the soup and milk and pour this over the chicken.

Combine the stuffing mix and water.

Spoon this over the chicken.

Cover and cook on Low setting for 7 hours.

Serves four people.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

How To Make A Kid’s Easter Bunny Ear Headband

With Easter fast approaching, many parents and grand-parents are searching for Easter crafts to do with their children or grandchildren.

Easter Bunny or Easter Basket crafts are always popular, and the following instructions are for a super-easy set of Easter Bunny ears for your child to make and wear.

Baking Easter treats or making Easter crafts with your children will form great memories for many years to come. Easter is a wonderful Spring holiday and signifies new birth and a fresh beginning. What a perfect time to make great memories with your child.

You will need:

• White poster board

• Pink paper – the thick construction-type

• Tacky glue or school glue

• Tape or stapler

• Scissors

• Pencil

1. Cut a strip of poster board 2" wide by 24" long. This will be the headband portion of the bunny ears.

2. Cut the 2 ears from the poster board. Each one should be around 8 1/2" long x 3 1/2" wide.

3. Glue the pink ears inside the white ears. Let dry.

4. Glue the ears inside the band.

5. Fit the band to the child. When you have the correct fit, tape or staple the band and cut off any excess.

Photo by Anna Cervova

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Friday Dog Blog

A big Friday hello from Jesse the Dog in Michigan. He's happy that we're posting a super closeup of him because, well, he has the face for it.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Read For Your Health - How About A Great Novel?

I have been reading quite a few novels lately.  Normally I tend toward biographies and histories, or maybe a historical novel once in a while, but I've been hooked on reading novels now for about six months, and within the next week or so I am about to embark upon a project involving quite a few novels.

Anyway, a friend of mine (thanks, Linda!) turned me on to a terrific historical novel, which I will pass on to you. 

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2006) is told in retrospect by the narrator, Jacob Jankowski, who is 90 or 93 years old - he isn't sure.  Living in a nursing home, Jacob reflects on his life with the circus in the middle of the Great Depression.  The Benzini Brothers' Most Spectacular Show On Earth is anything but spectacular - it is a second or third rate little circus that travels town to town by rail. 

23-year-old Jacob jumps a train one night after suffering a breakdown following the death of his parents in an accident. He has dropped out of Cornell just before taking his final exams to become a veterinarian, and is surprised to find that the train he jumped was a circus train.  He becomes the animal doctor and lives a circus life. 

Gruen pulls no punches in describing the horrendous conditions of the Depression and the squalid life that a second-rate circus provided.  Animal and human cruelty abounded, and survival instincts kicked in as Jacob struggled to make a life out of what confronted him daily.

"Freaks", "midgets", "rubes", "drunks", the "magic of the big top" - they all come alive in Water For Elephants.  Don't be fooled, this is not a happy, uplifting book or a "chick-flick" book, but it is a great page-turner and will hold your interest all the way through its 335 pages.

If you're short on time, try the audio-book.  I downloaded it from the library to my I-Pod and listened to it on my daily commute.  For free.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Monday Recipe Blog

Make Some Beautiful Onion-Skin Colored Easter Eggs!

Happy Monday!  Easter is approaching, so what about a "recipe" for colored Easter eggs today?

Here’s a nice, natural twist on the usual, brightly dyed Easter eggs – Coloring them with onion skins!

Onion skins produce a brownish marbled color that is truly striking, and the colors will not run if the eggs get wet in the morning dew. The colors will not rub off on little hands, either, because no commercial dyes are used.

These bronze marbled eggs are really beautiful in a crystal bowl as an Easter decoration. If they are hidden outside for the kids, they can produce a real challenge since they blend in better with the browns of nature.

Your kids (and you) will really enjoy coloring these eggs by using a natural color source.

Here are the directions:

You will need:

5 Red Onions

5 Yellow Onions

Cheesecloth, cut into 12 1-inch squares

Dozen Eggs

Separate the colored outside layers of each onion. This is what you will use. Put the remainder of each onion aside – you can use these later for other things.

Place two layers of onions on a square of cheesecloth, and put an egg on top of that. Gently wrap the onion layers and cheesecloth around the egg so that it is complete covered by the onion.

Secure this with a rubber band and set it aside.

Follow this process with the remaining eggs, onion and cheesecloth.

Set a large pot of water on the stove and add the wrapped eggs. Cover and bring to a boil, then remove from heat and let stand for at least fifteen minutes. Then rinse the eggs with cool water, snip the rubber band and remove the onion and cheese cloth.

Rinse and dry each egg.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

If You Want To Save Money, Time Your Purchases!

When you need to purchase an item, do you go right out and buy it?  If you are willing to wait to make your purchases, you can save some money by spending your money during months when stores generally run good sales on certain items.

During difficult economic times (such as right now) you can get great buys on big-ticket items and luxury purchases.

The time of the year and day of the week can make a big difference on the prices you pay for certain items.

The following is a list of items that generally are priced lower in certain months….

Buy these in January:

Sports equipment, furniture and bicycles.

Buy these in February:

MP3 players, stereo equipment, televisions, cameras.

Buy these in March:

All winter clothing. This is when stores clear their space of winter clothes to make room for spring duds. You may find nice wool suits and other clothing for up to 80% off the regular retail price.

Buy these in April or May:

Pots, pans, any kind of kitchen items.

Buy these in June:

Furniture, MP3 players, stereo equipment, televisions, cameras.

Buy these in July:

Furniture, computers, computer equipment.

Buy these in August:

School supplies and office supplies. Also, my state of Oklahoma has a tax-free back-to- school weekend during this month, when school supplies and most clothing is sale-tax-free. Stores run sales on these items to coincide with the special week-end. If your state has this, be sure and take advantage of it.

Buy these in September:

Cars, summer clothes (as in March, stores are clearing their space for the upcoming season of clothing, and you can get some terrific deals).

Buy these in October:

Pots, pans, any kind of kitchen items, trees and shrubs.

Buy these in November:

Pots, pans, any kind of kitchen items, wedding dresses. Also, take advantage of the great deals on Black Friday, the Friday after Thanksgiving.

Buy these in December:

New cars, champagne.

If you are able to time your purchases, you will save some money and feel better about your purchases.

Happy shopping!!

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Friday Dog Blog

TGIF, and it's Dog Blog day, too!

This pooch's name was Bobby, and he belonged to my dad. My dad was a cowboy, so I guess Bobby was a cow dog, but he was never very good at his job. He made my dad happy, though, and that's the important thing.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Embrace and Love Basketball's March Madness!

This is the time of year when college basketball fans go crazy and our favorite television show is pre-empted for a monumental tussle between someone named Gonzaga and Slippery Rock. This is March Madness.

You can rage against the gargantuan college basketball machine, or you can become friends with it and have some fun in the process. To do this, you have to get yourself a stake in the outcome. The following are some pointers on how to embrace March Madness.

Find a bracket to fill out. If you are employed, there may be a bracket going around your workplace. Take one, fill it out, turn it in (usually involves a very small sum like $5.00 or $10.00 to enter) and wait for the games to begin. Major sports sites like or Fox Sports generally have free contests where you compete against others for prizes. Sometimes a local newspaper will run a contest. It doesn’t matter where you get the bracket, just get one. Brackets generally start appearing the day after Selection Sunday in mid-March.

Now that you have a bracket, it’s time to get down to business and fill it out. For this, you do not need to be a basketball guru. Having access to a computer is all you need, and if you are reading this, then you have everything required. Your local newspaper will generally have the information you need as well.

You will need to find the odds of each game. Major sports sites like or Fox Sports have these, as well as about a bazillion other sites. Don’t pay for any of this information, it is all available at no cost. Your local newspaper sports section will generally publish the odds for each game, too. You’re not going to bet on these games, but the odds will tell you which team is favored in each game. This knowledge is essential.

Make your picks. Pick mostly the favored teams, but also a few upsets. Use anything to pick your upsets – Favorite state, favorite mascot, whatever, but don’t choose too many upsets.

Turn in your ballot and wait until the games start. Then pull for your teams to win.

Even if you don’t complete a March Madness ballot, you can still choose your four favorite teams to make the Final Four. Watch their games and become their fan.

Any sport is enjoyable if you have a stake in the outcome of the game.  Embrace the enemy and be happier and healthier......So, let March Madness begin!

Photo by Salvatore Vuono

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Monday Recipe Blog

Happy Monday, and let's pull out our crock pots today!!

We love our tacos and Tex-Mex in Oklahoma. Most of the time we use ground beef filling, mainly for convenience. However, true Hispanics know that shredded beef is optimum for filling tacos, enchiladas, tamales and other Tex-Mex foods.

One of the best ways to prepare shredded beef for your Tex-Mex dish is with a slow-cooker, also know as a crock pot. This method allows you to prepare the meat and forget it for several hours while it cooks.

The following is a recipe for slow-cooker shredded beef for tacos or other Tex-Mex dishes:

Crock-Pot Shredded Beef for Tacos:


2/3 pound round roast, cut up into large chunks

1 large chopped onion

3 Tablespoons canola or vegetable oil

2 chopped Serrano chilies

3 chopped cloves of garlic

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup water

Brown the meat and onion in the oil and then put in the crock pot.

Add the chilies, garlic, salt and water.

Cover and cook on High for 6 to 8 hours.

When done, pull the meat apart with two forks until completely shredded.

For soft tacos, provide fresh tortillas, tomatoes, cheese and lettuce. You can also add guacamole if you prefer.

Serves 6-8 people.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Need An Office Fundraiser? Try Penny Wars!

Those of us working in offices know how difficult it can be to come up with new and fun ways to raise money. Whether you need money for monthly birthday celebrations, flowers for sick employees, charities or holiday lunches, it becomes a real chore to go from person to person asking for money.

Penny Wars is a competitive and fun way for an office to raise funds. It gets everyone involved and interested, and people almost forget that bunches of money is being raised while the office is having all this fun!

For Penny Wars to be a success, you must have a rather large office. Something bigger than a 5 or 6 person office. If your office is large and is divided into teams already, that’s even better.

Look at the office division. You will need 3 or more teams of people. There is no limit as to how many teams you can have, the more the merrier! If your office is not already divided (most are), then have each person pick his/her team out of a hat.

Each team will obtain and decorate a large, clear, gallon jug, jar or receptacle. It can be glass or plastic, and should not be decorated so much that the money inside cannot be seen. The team name should be clearly on the jug, and it should have a lid that is, for now, closed with tape all around it to prevent tampering. There should be a money slot in the jug or in the lid.

Line up all of the jars in a prominent area that gets a lot of traffic (but not in an area where customers are). Determine and post the beginning and ending time of the contest. It’s usually about 3-5 days. Declare the contest ON!

The object of the game is simple. Whoever has the most money at the end of the contest wins. But, of course, there is a catch to this game. All coins count for the team, but all paper money in the jar is SUBTRACTED from that team’s total. So what you have is sabotage, and lots of it.

Team members will load up their own jar with coins, and everyone else’s jars with dollars, fives, tens and twenties. It’s not uncommon for all teams to be in negative numbers at the end, and the least negative number will win.

Expect things to get fast and furious as the final minutes wind down, and teams try to count each other’s money through the jars to decide where to put their final paper contributions.

Generally, the winning team will be awarded something (A cake? Rented movie and popcorn over the lunch hour?) for winning, but the true winner is the office or whoever is receiving the funds that were raised.

This is a really fun way to raise LOTS of money in just a few days, and get the entire office involved in a rousing competition as well.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Friday Dog Blog

Hello and how is your Friday???

For the Dog Blog today, we have the return of Michelle's super-Schnauzer twins, Shadow and Smokey.  Sitting on a quilt or digging in the yard, Schnauzers are just terrific and funny dogs!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Are You Addicted To Facebook?

Seems like just about anything can become an addiction nowadays.  With the advent of social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, people are spending more and more time online.  Now, I personally think that these are a good thing, up to a point.  They allow us to re-connect with family and friends we haven't seen in years - classmates, long-lost cousins, college friends - but too much time online can be unhealthy.

The games available through Facebook can be really addictive and time-consuming.  They can also be a nice way to spend a rainy Saturday.  Too much of a good thing can turn bad, and this goes for the Facebook games.

People tend to live on the computer when they are first introduced to Farmville, Cafe World, Zoo World and the other Facebook games, but for most people the "new" wears off after a few weeks, and they turn to other interests.  If you find yourself glued to the computer planting new crops after six months, then you are addicted and need to think about limiting your time online.

Yes, it's a lot of fun, but when it interferes with work, school or socializing, it's too much.

Are you addicted?  Think about it.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Monday Recipe Blog

Hello....It's a cold Monday in March - just in time for a Monday recipe...

Dreaming of summer picnics? So am I!

Here is a great salad called Copper Pennies to take along for a meal outdoors. Keep dreaming, and summer will be here before we know it!

(Photo by Simon Howden)

Copper Pennies:


3 medium onions

2 pounds of carrots – peeled, sliced and cooked

Salt and pepper

1 can Cream of Tomato Soup

¾ c. sugar, or Splenda

½ c. olive oil

¾ c. vinegar

1 t. prepared mustard

1 t. Worcestershire Sauce

Slice the onions and separate into rings. In a large dish, layer the cooked carrots and onions. Sprinkle each layer with salt and pepper to taste.

Mix the rest of the ingredients together and pour this over the carrots and onions.

Cover tightly and refrigerate for 12 hours before serving.

Drain a portion of the dressing from the vegetables and then you can serve it either as a salad on lettuce or as a vegetable.

Try putting your leftover dressing on a tossed salad, it’s pretty good.

This is a nice way to work some fresh vegetables into your diet and make your picnics a little healthier!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Coming To Oklahoma? Visit The Rt. 66 Round Barn!

Oklahoma has more drivable miles of The Mother Road than any other state, which makes it a prime area for Route 66 fans from around the world. A major landmark on their tour is the Round Barn in Arcadia.

In 1898 a farm family built a unique barn on their land. It was in a circular form, and was a real pain to build, due to the shape.

Here is how to visit and enjoy the old Rt. 66 Round Barn of Arcadia….

On Route 66, just east of Oklahoma City, there is a tiny little town called Arcadia. This will be your stop. Now, it’s not much of a town, and as you pass through, the huge, red round barn will loom up before you. There’s no way you can miss it.

The Rt. 66 Round Barn is on the north side of the road, and is on the west side of Arcadia. There is a pull-off on the south side of Rt. 66 where you can get a good picture. After that, you will want to drive around to the north side of the barn, where there is plenty of free parking.

There are two levels to the barn. You will go into the lower level first. This is where the animals were sheltered and the hay was stored back in the day. Now, though, you will see that the lower level is filled with old, historic pictures of round barns throughout the United States. There are also neat old artifacts and history of Rt. 66. Walk around, find your state’s round barns, and soak up the history.

Be sure and engage the guy behind the old counter. He’s a real character, and full of information about the barn, Oklahoma, and Rt. 66.

There are shirts and numerous souvenirs available with Route 66, the Round Barn and other things on them. Purchasing a souvenir will remind you of your visit years later.

After all this, you will walk upstairs to the upper level of the Rt. 66 Round Barn, where they had parties and barn dances in the old days. This is where the fact that you are in a round barn will really sink in. People walk in and wander aimlessly while they gaze at the beautiful round ceiling. How in the world did they build this?

Each rafter was green lumber and soaked in water to make it bendable. What resulted from these efforts was a true wonder of architecture. The room is dark, and it will be hard to take pictures, but try your best and maybe something will turn out.

All of this is free. Yes, free. You can donate to the Route 66 Round Barn fund while you are there to help with the upkeep if you like, which would be a good thing to do.

Just another way to get your kicks on Rt. 66…..

Oh, and just across the street and a little west of the Rt. 66 Round Barn, there is another must-stop – Pop’s. You will know it by the huge, and I mean huge, lighted pop bottle. Go in and have a burger and a hard-to-find soft drink that you haven’t seen since your childhood. You will never see so many soft drinks in one place again.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Friday Dog Blog

What a great Friday we are having! Here's a dog to make it even better. Ok, here are THREE dogs to make it a wonderful Friday.

These Maltese triplets are a handful. Look at them - is there any doubt? They are plotting something devious right now.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Become Food-Smart In The Grocery Store

We have all seen the Nutrition Facts label on our food, but what does all of that information really mean? Believe it or not, all of the information on that little label is helpful in letting you, the consumer, know exactly what you are getting. And sometimes, what we are really getting is not what we think….

Take a typical Nutrition Facts label on macaroni and cheese….Start with the serving size – Everything below is based on one serving. Sometimes a serving size is not one of something, but two or three of something. You will normally then see the calories (and again, this is per serving). In the case of a product like macaroni and cheese, you have to ask yourself how many servings you are eating. Or limit yourself to one serving.The calories are a measure of how much energy a serving of food will give you.

The major nutrients are then listed. There are some that you want to limit, such as Fat, Cholesterol and Sodium. You want these numbers to be LOW, as too much of these may lead to heart disease, high blood pressure and cancer. You want to get more of these: Dietary fiber, Vitamins, Calcium and Iron. Also limit your sugars and protein.

Here is a handy guide to the % Daily Value: 5% or less is LOW. 20% or more is HIGH.
A diet that contains fruits, veggies, whole grains and is low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease. This type of diet is one that you should strive for. In moderation, it will also help you lose weight.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Monday Recipe Blog

How about some Spicy Fried Dill Pickles??????

So, hello there - how is your Monday going?  Spring is right around the corner, you know.....

We all know that anything fried tastes good! However, we also know to limit our fried foods for health reasons. One of our favorite fried splurges in Oklahoma is dill pickles.

Those who haven’t tasted these delicacies often make faces when they hear about fried dill pickles, but that’s just because they haven’t tried them. If you like fried onion rings, you will love fried dill pickles!

Here is the recipe. Remember to enjoy these only once in a while. I normally like to publish healthy (or at least semi-healthy) recipes, but I realize that a splurge now and then won’t stop the world….

Spicy Fried Dill Pickles

10 medium dill pickles, sliced into thin, quarter-size discs, or you can use the dill pickle “hamburger slices”

1 beaten egg

1 cup low-fat milk

1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

5 drops of red pepper sauce

2 cups and 1 Tablespoon flour

Pepper to taste

Enough vegetable oil for deep frying

In a deep fryer, heat the oil to 350 degrees. Mix egg, milk, Worcestershire sauce, pepper sauce, 1 Cup and 1 Tablespoon flour. In another bowl, place the rest of the flour and pepper to taste. Dip the pickle slices in the egg mixture, then in the flour, back in the egg mixture, and finally, back in the flour. Fry the pickles until golden brown.

Drain on a paper towel and serve piping hot.

Some people dip their fried pickles in ranch dressing before eating them. These hot little gems are perfect snacks when settling down with a movie in the dead of winter. Promise yourself that you will visit your farmers' market when spring finally gets here for healthier eating options!