Friday, January 11, 2013

Book Review: Save Me

Save Me a novel by Lisa Scottoline

I was first introduced to the author Lisa Scottoline in the grocery store.  It happened like the random act of meeting your soulmate in the store, you turn around and it's love at first site.  Cliche I know.

I was waiting for my mom to check out and there was a new books section at the entrance.  Being a book lover I would just perused the cover to read over their synopsis.  Lisa Scottoline's Look Again caught my eye.  The basic premise is that a woman finds the picture of her adopted son on a "Missing Child" card and the plot moves on from there.  It was a thrilling read but I never thought to look for any more books by her.

Until the other day when I was searching through books at the thrift store.  First I look at the cover and the name, is it catchy?  Then I check the price, is it under $4?  Then finally I read the synopsis and decide if it sounds like a good read.  Obviously it's no big investment but if I start a book I have to finish, so I want it to be a good one.

When I noticed Lisa Scottoline's name on the bookshelf I figured why not and all my criteria were met.  I must say this was a great book to start off my New Year and my resolution to read every day.  Thankfully this book has helped me stay on track.

Save Me was captivating to read.  When I only had a few minutes to read, I was always wanting more.  I WANTED to read every day because I desired to find out what was next.  The book was written in a lot of small chapters which made it easy to just sit down and read a bit at a time as well.

Synopsis:  Rose is acting as a lunch aide in her elementary aged daughters brand new, state-of-the-art school to keep an eye on the bullying that is being done to her daughter.  After most students have headed out to recess, Rose remains reprimanding some students for bullying.  An explosion suddenly occurs within the kitchen engulfing the cafeteria in flames and smoke.  Rose awakens after being momentarily knocked out and knows she has to act fast to save the kids she was talking with.  Then she remembers that her daughter Melly ran off to the handicap bathroom after being bullied.  Who must she save and how can she save these girls and her daughter?  While this main storyline happens at the beginning of the novel, the continuing story details how the community views her efforts, the effect it has on the school and community, and the mystery of what really caused the fire.  Inside this plot there also carries a storyline of family bonds and mysterious cover ups.

I must say that the beginning was a lot more riveting than the end.  I guess that depends what you find riveting.  The Book began with drama then lead into mystery.  So I'd say the drama aspect is more my thing.

Overall this book was a great read.  Rose is definitely the super-hero mom in this novel, but I was able to enjoy her story not even being a mother myself.  The book really made me think about a lot of questions.  Who would you save if it was down to the line?

So what books have you been reading lately?  I'm always open for new ideas!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Our little baby named foreclosure

I'm excited to bring to you our first house that we bought as a foreclosure!

Our first house which we will be moving out of in a month.  WHAT?!  After having it listed for 7 months and just meeting our 2 year mark of ownership before moving out, we're moving on.  What we'll do next is to be determined.  Just when I was finally coming to terms with staying where we are and considering all the positives of that decision, we get an offer that works for us.

Coming up will be a few posts that describe how the foreclosure process worked for us and details of all our renovations.  As we move on to an apartment for now I'll be sure to bring posts of our First House DIY details as I reminisce.

Let me start by saying that although our house had a lot we didn't like, it was ALL cosmetic changes.  There was nothing structurally wrong with our house.  We consulted a few family members during the process who helped confirm that this was a good choice.  After the inspection we felt even more confident with just some minor things we needed to fix once we bought her.  Of course they kind of missed the leak, but it was winter so we agreed to forgo that part of the inspection...Lesson learned.  I'll detail that another day.

Entry Way and Half Bath
Welcome to our house, the land of teal carpets.  We were kinda digging the open steps in such a small place.  Each floor is about 500 sq ft.  So being able to see into the living space from the entrance (and having an open kitchen) was a perk.  A half bath on the main floor was also nice.  Everything had been winterized so we spent a lot of time trying to get those stickers off everything.  Eventually that builder grade cabinet gets thrown out, yay!

Oh, Hey living area!

Basic, basic, basic bath

Living Space
First up was covering the back sliding door.  We LOVED these curtains and planned all along to have a matching orange wall across from it (leading into the kitchen).  We threw in all our combined furniture and pulled a futon from my parents that use to be in my basement/hang out area in high school.  Please note the velcro above the futon.  Velcro was EVERYWHERE as well as scotch tape just taped to the walls.  More teal carpet and it was horribly stained but you can't really tell.  She's quite the eye-sore.

Dark orange curtains

clashing with bright orange futon and blanket

Sigh, so glad this is gone

Beautiful beigey appliances (I believe use to be white) clashed with beige cabinets.  It's so odd because my friend lives in this development and has much nicer cabinets, makes me wonder who lived here that actually picked these.  The floor was pretty gross under all the appliances to the point where the gross stuff was peaking out underneath.  Yuck!  We couldn't wait to get rid of these appliances.  It was definitely first on our list. 

Look how gross the floor is

Too much beige

Master Bedroom
This space is nice and open.  The windows let in a lot of natural light and all the upstairs ceilings are vaulted.  We had some old-school brass light fixtures throughout the house, chandelier types in the bedrooms, which we switched out.  Some people might not like ceiling fans in their rooms, but it was definitely our thing.  A HUGE perk was the double closets.  My husband and I were not looking forward to sharing a closet as it was our first time living together.  I have a lot of clothes.  I still have a separate dresser for many items and my shoes take up half the closet (same size) int he front room, but that's OK.  We managed to share, SCORE!  Again we had velcro and tape on the wall.  The tape was NOT fun to find after taping.  It was so hard to see by itself but when you painted you could see shiny spots.  Peel off, little piece by little piece, then paint again.  Here's a good example of the carpet stains....don't ask!

Lots of closets, big window

Tape and velcro on the walls

Eww, stained floors

Upstairs Bath
On the upper level we had a full bath that was connected to both our room and the little hallway.  It was nice because I can get in and out from my room easily but it's also accessible to guests.  Don't want guests walking to the basement to shower.  Believe me, we did that for a month while renovating this space, and it was not fun.  I am seriously upset we never got a picture of the wallpaper border in this room.  The plan was to keep a small piece and frame it to keep in the bathroom closet just for fun, but during the tearing down process we forgot.  Better it's gone I say.  This bathroom got an overhaul under a year ago to give us double sinks.  More info on that because it was quite the task involving plumbing, that my handy man husband took on.  Remember how we showered in the basement for a month....

To the left is the little toilet nook and closet

Front Bedroom
I usually call this the front bedroom of the second bedroom because it is (go figure) at the front of our house.  Usually it's the store things bedroom and more importantly my craft/scrapbook room.  I loved this room because of the little nook on the side.  Gave me a dedicated space for my scrapbook stuff while still letting this be a guest bedroom.  It's a bit cramped and only gets one side table (sorry Dad) but it works for the few guests we get.  Here's one of our beautiful brass light fixtures.  These closets worked perfectly fine, so clue why they were ever off their glider, possibly to fix the tub leak caused before winterizing the pipes.  There is a whole in the wall of the closet, never got around to covering that.  The leak actually also lead to having to rip a hole in the kitchen ceiling which almost led us to not being able to purchase the house.  The bank wouldn't fix anything because it was a foreclosure, but some lenders wouldn't give us money without it being fixed.  Thankfully we got things to work out.

Teal carpets to enjoy

Brass fixtures

Gross walls but nice window ledge

Not a 2 car garage like we really wanted but it allows for a lot of storage and my car.  My husbands fits in there too but it's a lot tighter.  Another reason I claim full parking rights in there.  But really I told him that in the winter it's mine or else he can get up at 5:30 am and spend 15 minutes cleaning it off when there is snow/ice.  It all works out. :)

I WISH it still looked this clean (the garage not my car)

This basement is a LIFESAVER.  It's an extra 400 (approx.) square feet of space.  We don't spend much time down here but it holds all our left over items.  OK, we have a storage unit too, but it we weren't selling this would probably have ended up a cluttered mess.  The washer and dryer is down here, one of the reasons I do laundry so infrequently.  We have a full bath.  Many units in our development don't have the bathroom just the hook ups.  There is nice storage space under the stairs to throw all the junk no one needs to see.  After putting up some shelves the middle area is pretty open.  We've hung out here some when our house was just too hot in the summer, since our AC was never really up to snuff in cooling.  We had to patch a lot of holes in the basement bathroom.  We think they kept an animal in that room and it bit through the drywall.  We had dreams of fixing this up and were days from actually starting the process when our offer came in.  Things always work out!

Lots of room under the stairs

Bathroom in the far back right corner

Nice open space

Kinda cramped laundry area

Well that's pretty much it.  The good, bad and ugly of our foreclosure.  Although I must say many more "goods" were to come as we upgraded.  I can't wait to share all those updates with you.  But for a basic rundown, here is what we ended up doing.

Entry Way - tile floor, paint door, new carpet on stairs, cling on side of door window so we have no peepers, paint walls, new fancier baseboard
Half Bath - tile floor, new sink/cabinet, paint walls, new fancier baseboard, hang artwork, paint door
Living Space - laminate wood floor, paint walls, new fancier baseboard, new couch, chaise, kitchen table and chairs, bigger TV, make shelves, hang art
Kitchen - tile floor, paint walls, baseboard, new appliances to install, accessorize, new backsplash and granite counters, cover hole in ceiling, retexture to match
Master Bedroom - new carpet, paint walls, reinstall baseboard, hang curtains, get more storage, ceiling fan, retexture ceiling to match where leak was, paint door
Upstairs Bath - tile floor, new sinks/cabinet, plumbing related to double sinks, tear down wall paper and paint walls, reinstall baseboard, make towel hanging fixture, remove old mirror and hang new ones, removed old light fixture and hang new one with related wiring involved, paint doors
Front Bedroom - new carpet, paint walls, reinstall baseboard, rehang closet doors, hang curtains, ceiling fan, paint door
Garage - add place for shoes, hook up freezer, add shelves, hand a coat rack, paint door
Basement - new carpet down to basement, install washer and dryer, add 2 large storage shelves, patch bathroom walls and paint, put down a large area rug, hang bedsheets to section off space (for listing), get a winter clothes/coats storage unit, organize house supplies in boxes, drywall closing off sump pump, under stairs and laundry/furnace to be separate areas, drop ceiling, new carpet, paint vanity in bath and tile border around mirror, new laundry sink (ours leaks)

Which makeover are you looking forward to reading about the most?!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

What's in my....


Here's the first edition of a re-occurring (maybe monthly) post I'd like to do.  It will focus on what's in my....bag, purse, make up kit, box, etc.  You'd think this topic would expire quickly but I seriously have lots of ideas.  I'm an organization person so everything is grouped together somehow.  Heck I even think what's in my closet could last for a while.  Hope you don't get too bored!

We got our first big snow of the year here in Ohio (thank you for holding off till Christmas) recently and that reminded me that my brown and orange purse was so Fall (and so 2012).  So on New Years Eve while I cleaned up the house for guests I also cleaned up my purse.  There was a bit of purging that needed to go on.

Let's dump her out and see what we've got.

Yes, I look at this and realize it is A LOT!!!  So let's break it down into groups.  Wanna play spot the bobby pin?  Because it's there...

First is the "essentials"

-Wallet:  Maybe we'll see a "What's in my wallet" another day because it needs cleaned out too.  But basically if I go somewhere without my purse, I at least grab a few things from my wallet to add to a clutch or in my pocket.
-Work ID:  Not good to be at work without this, can't get into the office (or leave to go to the bathroom).  Once I tried to get to work at 6am because I had a deadline coming up, but I forgot my ID and sat on my butt in the lobby for an hour till someone else came.  Lesson learned.
-Vitamins:  Maybe not an essential to everyone but as I get older I've decided I need to keep myself healthy.  Nice reminder for me to take my vitamin right now...OK, done.
-Makeup bag: Also to be blogged about.  Again, maybe not an essential to you, but a  MUST for me.  Unfortunately I was not blessed with a smooth and acne free complexion.  Plus sometimes when I leave for work at 6 am I don't remember to get myself completely ready, so it's good to have on stand-by.
Seasonal items

-Lotions: Bath and Body Works, thick lotion for my dry hands.
-More Lotion:  because it's that time of year.
-Umbrella:  Don't mind that it's missing the handle, I lost it, but it's smaller now and more compact for my purse, so I call that a win.  This has now been moved to the closet, won't help me with the snow and wind.

Extras (no pun intended)

Gum:  threw one of these in recently when I was heading out to meet some friends.  Don't want bad breath.
Flash drives:  These mostly stick around still from college.  I was always saving files on a school computer then needing them at home or work.  I still use sometimes for work files or saving pictures I want to upload.
Point and shoot Camera:  This thing lives with me.  I have a DSLR now that I take most places, but the old point and shoot will always be around.  I hate to miss a picture!
"Extras" bag:  Yep, another bag.  This holds all my coupons, a pen or two, all my rewards program cards and various other items at times.  Can't you wait till I blog about it!?!

The Randoms

DSLR Camera "bag":  I don't usually carry this is my purse, but with a huge purse (clearly) and the Holiday bustle, I was carrying it around.
Verizon VISA Rebate:  I've had this in my purse since Spring, it's even transferred purses and not been used yet...guess I don't like free money.  NOT!
Corks and more corks:  I made one project with corks for my brother-in-law's wedding in May and since then have been thinking of more ideas.  In the mean time my parents keep collecting them for me.  Last time I was at their house (October?)  they gave these ones to me.  They finally went into my craft box.  I didn't actually contribute to drinking any of the bottles though.
Party Balloon Toothpicks:  These were from my niece's cupcakes that I baked for Sunday so they made their way home then went into my baking supplies.
Clinique eyeshadow:  On the road to the Birthday Party I was not yet ready, so I had to throw in my eyeshadow to do in the car.  It's now back with my makeup.  It didn't fit with the small makeup bag I carry.  I don't carry eye shadow in that makeup bag, but other essentials.
The Bobby Pin:  FOUND IT!  This is another item that has moved from purse to purse.  I rarely need a bobby pin at random so it's definitely not an essential.  Back in the drawer it went with it's bobby pin friends.

So that's a wrap to "What's in my Purse."

Oops, looks like I forgot something!
This one likes to climb into ANYTHING!  His current choice "toy" is a large cereal box.  He got in here after I emptied it out, turned around, and lounged for a good 15 minutes until his brother decided to bother him.

Thanks for playing!  So, what's in YOUR purse?  Please share!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Thoughtful Gifting

I had some last minute DIY gifts I had to put together in time for New Years Day which is when half my family gets together to celebrate Christmas.  This is mostly extended family and I like to do small gifts like the the hand soap and ornaments.

I needed to get something for the kids that would be there who we don't see very often but I like to buy for.  I decided to go with a simple DIY idea, Hot Cocoa.  Thanks to Kristen at Popcorn on the Stove for posting about homemade hot chocolate!  After taking her inspiration I ran with some new ideas.

First I bought cute holiday mugs at the Michael's after Christmas sale.  I forgot to snap a picture before handing them out.  But they were a snowman, Santa, and a reindeer with a giant, 3D, red nose.  Cute for 3 kids under age 12.

I wanted to make hot cocoa "spoons" to give the kids.  The basic process is as follows.

1.  Melt Nestle Chocolate Chips in a small mug.  A little bit at a time.
2.  Dip spoons into chocolate and get a good scoop.  I used plastic ones since I was gifting but if you've making for fun to use at home soon, go ahead and use your own spoons.
3.  Place on wax paper on a plate or cookie tray.
4.  Place in the freezer to harden.  Seemed like 5 minutes was a good amount of time.
5.  Pull out of the freezer and wrap up.  In case you were wondering, no melting of the chocolate occurred then.  I suppose if it was particularly hot you might have a problem.  I'll let you know if I get any complaints from the gift receivers parents.

To add a little flair to my hot cocoa spoons, I decided to make 5 flavors.  They are, in no particular order:

1.  Coconut.  I dipped the spoon as noted above then added shredded coconut on top before freezing.  I figured with would probably rise to the top of cocoa but add a nice flavor for sipping.
2.  Krackle.  I got a bag of candies for Christmas and decided to add these to a spoon.  Again it was a regular spoon, but with some cut up candy pieces on it.
3.  Dark Chocolate.  Another candy that was in the pack.  Just added dark chocolate pieces to the regular spoon.
4.  Peanut Butter.  Instead of scooping a bunch of the melted chocolate on the spoon, I just lightly coated it.  After freezing I removed the spoon and put a bit of peanut butter on.  Then I added more chocolate to cover up the PB so it wasn't sticky and messy.
5.  Caramel.  Same as the PB but when I removed from the freezer I poured a little bit of caramel sauce in the middle then covered with more chocolate.  (Note:  When I was taking these pictures today I noticed the caramel ran out, so make sure it is COMPLETELY covered since the caramel stays smooth out of the fridge.)

Since I made 5 different types.  I wrapped up 1 of each together for each kid.  I then decided to make a cute little label and directions on how to mix up the hot cocoa.  The recipes is also slightly altered from Kristen's because I had to downsize it since she used a whole chocolate bar.

The top lists the flavors and the directions are:

*Add spoon to a cup of warm milk.
*Add in 1/2 tbsp maple syrup and a drop of vanilla.
*Throw in a small pinch of salt.  Mix.
*Top with marshmallows!  Enjoy!!

Tied it all together in a holiday bag and there we have it.  This one was an extra so I didn't tie a festive ribbon on it.


Another DIY gift I did this Holiday were babysitting coupons.  My cousin and her husband have 2 girls (one of whom is my Goddaughter) just 14 months apart and they both work full time jobs.  When I asked her what they (the adults) wanted for Christmas she said, "You can come over here and babysit."  PERFECT!  I call that a win-win situation.

So my husband picked up a few gift cards to restaurants near their house while he was at Giant Eagle.  Darn, I just realized he gets the fuel perks for those, no wonder he was eager to offer.  Moving on....

I got into my scrapbook papers and made mini coupons to tie to the gift cards. 

I apologize for the horrible phone pictures, I was in a hurry to do these the day we left for the Christmas get- together.

The coupons say:  Good for One night out with free babysitting.  Expires 12-31-13.

I was hoping that the expiration date would make them more likely to use the coupons.  And if they don't end up needing us to babysit, at least they have some gift cards to go out and enjoy a dinner while paying a bit less.

Did you do any DIY gifts this Holiday? 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Kip Cake

My first of 4 nieces turned 2 this past weekend, and I was honored to make her birthday cake.  My grandmother actually made her 1st Birthday cake because she made all our cakes as kids.  I was so excited to help and actually put my cake decorating classes to good use.

This post will definitely be the first of many baking posts.  In case you couldn't tell from my header I love to bake cakes and cupcakes.  I've had many adventures in both and hope to inspire you to whip up something delicious for your next event.

So the party at hand was "Kipper the Dog" themed.  If you don't have kids, or do and haven't heard of Kipper, don't worry.  It's a British TV series that currently airs on PBS Kids Sprout.  I had to do my research for ideas and even my sister-in-law said there is little Kipper themed accessories for parties.  My niece loves Kipper though so we went with it.  I was excited for the challenge.

I spent a lot of time on Pinterest and just googling to find cake ideas.  My sister-in-law asked for cupcakes but a birthday party needs a central cake too.  Take a look at some of the ideas on my Cakes/Cupcakes board.  I was set to do the sheet cake with Kipper's face until someone showed me the Kipper in a basket.  I just KNEW that it would be a show-stopper and I had to use my basket-weave technique.

Let's not wait any longer.  Here is the finished product.

I LOVE how it turned out.  Everyone at the party thoroughly enjoyed it to.  Best of all my 2 year old niece got wide eyed when she saw her "Kip" cake.  Nothing better than pleasing the birthday girl!

I made Kipper's head out of rice kripsie treat.  Then I wrapped white fondant all around it.  I used pre-packaged fondant from the Wilton line at Michaels.  Next I dyed some white fondant to a color I thought looked close to Kipper's coloring and cut a smooth edge.  Then I wrapped it around the top part.  I made the nose and ears out of fondant as well.  I was able to "glue" them on to the head by wetting the fondant and pressing on.  Just a little trick.  They stayed on well too after I let them have some time to dry in place.  To make those pieces black (since it is REALLY hard to die icing or fondant jet black) I dabbed a wet brush in the black gel coloring.  I then painted the ears and nose and drew on the eyes and mouth.  Easy stuff!

Kipper's paw was also formed from fondant.

The basket weave was definitely my favorite part.  Most time consuming too.  The weave itself took 35 minutes.  I used buttercream icing.  My hand was so sore from squeezing the icing bag though that I took a lot of breaks.  So I'm going to say about an hour total from start to finish to ice it.

I got a little carried away and decided to add Pig and Slipper to the cake.  They were simply made out of fondant, "glued" together and left to dry.  Each took under 5 minutes.

I saved the blanket for last.  I made the cake and iced it the night before since I didn't know in advance how long it would take me.  Fondant has to be out in the open (can't even place in a sealed container) or it gets wet and "melty" (not the correct terms).  So the other pieces just sat out in an open container covered lightly with a paper towel.

On the morning of the party I rolled out a large piece of white fondant so I could cut a square that would cover the cake.  Then I cut small colored squares of fondant.  These were left over from the confetti cupcakes (will share in a moment).  I lined everything up and "glued" the square on. 

I used toothpicks to secure Kipper's head and paw to the cake.  Then, with my husband's help, we draped the blanket over the cake so it was kind of ruffled up and covered everything nicely.  Pig and slipper were placed on last minute at the party.

We then drove 1.5 hours to PA with the cake on my lap in the car.  My husband did a good job of trying to ruin the cake (pot holes, last second stops, etc) but it all arrived in one piece!  We even stopped for fast food on the way and the lady at the drive through said, "Is that a cake?!"  I wanted to reply, "Nope, it's just a small dog in a basket" but was feeling nice that day.

Along with the cake I made some cupcakes.  We needed to feed about 35 people.  I made both chocolate and vanilla cupcakes, 24 of each.  So we had A LOT more than needed but that's just how it worked out since I used box mixes.

It's a party!  Kipper confetti cupcakes!

When I bought the red cupcake wrappers, they came with the little balloon toothpicks.  They had some confetti on them, so it inspired me to make confetti cupcakes.  I rolled out some fondant that I colored, just primary colors.  I used our noodle cutter to make thin strips.  Then I forced them into spiral shapes and laid them out to dry.  If fondant sits out in the open too long it dries out.  I let these sit for only a day and they held their shape up really well once I put them on the cupcakes at the party.

Close up of the cupcakes and Kipper medallions.

I iced the cupcakes and sprinkled red sugar crystals on them Saturday then added all the fancy stuff Sunday at the party.  The little medallions are just a circle of fondant then I used my regular buttercream icing to draw  Kippers face the the "2s".

Are you hungry yet?!  Hope you enjoyed the first of many cupcake posts.

Anyone else a cupcake baker?  I'd love to hear about your baking adventures!