Monday, June 27, 2016

Chocolate Caramel Layer Bars

No menu plan post today, but I do have this lovely recipe to share.

I got this recipe from my mother in law, Beaver-ly.  I tasted these the first time I ever met her.  And just look what happened--I married her son.  Not just because of the bars, of course.  With gooey caramel sandwiched between layers of chocolate, these bar cookies are delicious, easy to make, and come together quickly.


Chocolate Caramel Layer Bars
Click here to print this recipe

Here's what you need:

  • 1 box German chocolate cake mix (Beaver-ly's recipe calls for Pillsbury, but you can use any brand, or even make your own)
  • 3/4 c. (1 1/2 sticks) butter, melted
  • 2/3 c. evaporated milk (the smaller, 5 oz can is just enough), divided (heavy cream would also work)
  • 14 oz. bag caramels (or make your own)
  • 1 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
Here's what you do:


  1. Mix together dry cake mix, 3/4 c. melted butter, and 1/3 c. evaporated milk.  Press about half of this mixture into the bottom of a greased 9x13 pan.  It will look like it's not enough to cover, but don't panic.  It will work.
  2. Bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 6 minutes.
  3. Melt together caramels and remaining 1/3 c. evaporated milk--you can do this on the stovetop, in a double boiler, or in the microwave.
  4. Immediately upon taking the partially baked cake layer out of the oven, pour caramel mixture evenly on top of cake mixture. Sprinkle with chocolate chips, then drop the remaining cake mixture by teaspoons-full on top.
  5. Return to oven and bake at 350°F for an additional 16-18 minutes.  When finished, the bars will still be jiggly, but the spoonfuls of cake on top will look dry.  
  6. Allow to cool completely before cutting.


Friday, June 24, 2016

Jars

The Bullseye store has an amazing deal on canning jars this week.  This is noteworthy because canning jars rarely go on sale.  The deal is, buy three canning jar sets, get a $5 gift card.  And since prices start at $4.39 for a four-pack of wide-mouth half-pints, I could get a dozen for $8.17--only $0.68 each (my favorite thrift store prices canning jars at $0.99 each)!
{Source}
And these things are adorable.  I am such a sucker for canning jars anyway, but when they are as cute and sweet as these?  I'm having a hard time restraining myself.  

And why, you might ask, should I restrain myself?  I mean, why not buy the adorable canning jars, if they would make me happy, especially at such a great price?

First of all, they would not make me happy.  Oh, they would make me happy for a short time, and I suspect I would experience a little jolt of happiness each time I saw one (I do when I see my cute little 4 ounce jar), but things don't have that power.  They really don't.  Things don't make people happy, regardless of how diligently we try.

Second, I don't need any more canning jars.  I have dozens of them already.  Dozens of dozens, actually.  Sure, most of mine aren't cute, but really, how many canning jars does one need?  I'm willing to bet that I know people who don't have any canning jars.  Not one.  And they seem to be doing just fine, despite their lack.

I tried to justify a purchase by telling myself these would make special and cute gift jars, but when it comes right down to it, I don't think I would be able to bring myself to part with any of them, so that excuse doesn't wash.


{Source}
I've come to the conclusion that my only recourse is to stay out of the Bullseye store until the sale is over.  Almost always a prudent course of action to stay out of the Bullseye store.  But of course, they're also available (with the gift card for buying three) online.

Stand strong, Scarlet!  One more day.  You can do this.

And now, for your viewing pleasure...


video

(If you read my blog via email, you'll probably have to visit my blog to view the video--click here to do that).

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Yellowstone & Grand Tetons

The first time I met the Bluefields, I was struck by two things.  One: they are always on the go.  Two: they eat often.  It became kind of a joke between us--do an activity, then eat, do another activity, eat again.  Our recent trip to Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Parks was just like that.  This made my family, and in particular AKD, very happy.  And, in true Bluefield fashion, I feel like I need a vacation to recover from our vacation.

Here are some pics.
Somewhere in Wyoming.  The boys couldn't resist the opportunity to have a snowball fight in June.  I hightailed it out of there as soon as one flew close.



We biked about 16 miles at the base of the Tetons, from Jenny Lake to Moose, WY, and back.  We have a new family memory now... remember the time... when we went on a family bike ride... in the rain... and it hailed...?  It sounds bad, but it was actually kind of fun.  We biked in wedge formation, and Bubby was a rock star biker.

Don't worry--it's not real.
This is the moose at the visitor center... in Moose.

No words


...another beautiful waterfall.  This was the day we traveled from Grand Tetons back to Yellowstone.

The fam.  Frame-worthy.
This was a timed selfie ("us"-ie).  Set the photo timer on your phone for selfies.  The timer counts down on the screen, so everyone knows when the photo will be taken.  The screen is facing you, so everyone knows what the picture will look like, and can plan and adjust accordingly.  And, most importantly, you won't jostle the camera by pushing the button to take the picture.  Brilliant.

Most people think of Old Faithful when they think of Yellowstone, but there are hundreds of geysers, mud pots, hot springs, and steam vents in the park.  We saw many of them.   They were stinky.  And warm.

The boys relaxing in our campsite.  Yes, AKD's hammock is set up over the fire pit.

We rented an RV for the trip--this was my favorite campsite.

Devil's Tower National Monument.
Sometimes we do things just to make the mama happy--like getting our picture taken.  Or in this case, we do things to make the daddy happy.  Some, or maybe all, of the children were pictured-out by this point in the journey.  Some of them are better at hiding it than others.

We saw bison, moose, elk, and a family of grizzly bears on our trip.  This was the most up close and personal we got, though, in Custer State Park (SD).

On the way up the Cathedral Spires trail in Custer State Park.

Monday, June 20, 2016

A new method.

No menu today.  Because it's summer.  Finally.  Hooray for summer (sort of.  Remember, I'm free to complain about summer as much as I want).

But I did want to share something with y'all today.


It's a mountain of laundry.  Aren't you glad I shared?

After spending a week in the mountains of Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Parks, this is a pile of about 4/7 of the laundry.

At least it's clean.

And actually, it's also gone.  Well, sort of.

Sort of?  Hehehe.


With four baskets of clean laundry to sort, fold, and put away (and more on the way), I was feeling a little overwhelmed.  So I just dumped it out on our freshly vacuumed living room floor, set up five laundry baskets in a semicircle around the mountain, and set the kids to work sorting.  They just picked up an item, decided whom it belonged to (no easy feat considering that three of these men are similar in size, but I'm pretty sure most of the items were correctly categorized), and threw it toward that person's basket.  Most of the things even made it in to a basket.

It was so much fun that my kiddos kept at it until the pile was gone.  No worries.  As I said, there's more on the way.  Today, and all summer long.

Makes me wonder if I've been doing laundry wrong all these years...

P.S.  We're having grilled chicken skewers for supper tonight :)

Monday, June 13, 2016

Menu plan for the week of June 13

Hey y'all.  I know what you're thinking.  You're thinking, Scarlet, I thought you said your menu plan posts would be sporadic over the summer.  I thought last week's menu plan was so mentally taxing you didn't think you'd be able to do it again anytime soon.

Well, surprise!  My amazing husband helped me put this one together, so you get another.  Just don't get used to it, ok?

So, how's your summer going so far?  I mean, late-spring-but-school's-out-and-it's-after-Memorial-Day-so-we're-calling-it-summer.  How's that going for you?  Ours is proceeding in true Bluefield fashion, which is to say that I suspect I will need a vacation to recover from this vacation.

Here's what's on the menu this week.


  • Pork chops, grilled potato packets, roasted brussels sprouts with pecans
  • Chicken skewers, salad, garlic toast
  • Shish kabobs, grilled broccoli, garlic toast
  • Tacos
  • Roasted chicken, mashed potatoes & gravy, coleslaw, corn
  • Out to eat
  • Pizza

Monday, June 6, 2016

Menu plan for the week of June 6

Well, the good news is, it's summer "break" and I'm giving you a menu plan.  Are you surprised?  It's just because I love you.

The bad news is, it was so mentally taxing to put together this menu that I'm not sure I'll be able to do it again anytime soon.

The other good news is our pool is open, and it's pH balanced and appropriately chlorinated.  Whoohoo!  Additionally, Hubby built us a platform, so now we can jump in (slide to be installed later...)

The other bad news is the pool is...um...shall we say...a little...cold.

The other other good news is I pressure canned ten quarts of pinto beans and six pints of black beans last week.  And every single jar sealed.  Double whoohoo!

And the other other other good news is there's no other other bad news!  Triple whoohoo!

Here's what's on the menu this week:

Supper:


Other:



Sunday, June 5, 2016

Pressing Pause: 100 Quiet Moments for Moms to Meet with Jesus ~ A Review


I've been reading a new devotional on my iPad: Pressing Pause: 100 Quiet Moments for Moms to Meet with Jesus by Karen Ehman & Ruth Schwenk.  As the title suggests, this book contains 100 short chapters, each with a Bible verse or two, a meditation, a short prayer and a couple of questions to think about.  After the questions there's space to journal a response (for the electronic version, readers are encouraged to use a note-taking app to journal their response).

Each of the devotions deals with a topic that moms can relate to, like "Playing Favorites," "Teaching Your Children Courage," "Becoming Less," and "Picking Up Dirty Socks (Again!)."  Each chapter is short, requiring about 5 minutes to read, along with however long the reader wishes to think about the questions.  The authors use personal narrative to inspire other moms to take time to meet with Jesus each day.

Here are a couple of excerpts:

From "The Joneses Are Overrated"
Yes, the Joneses invade our homes and our thoughts several times a day through social media and the Internet, robbing us of contentment.  
 In a letter to the believers in Philippi, the apostle Paul penned Philippians 4:11-13, which says, "For I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am" (HCSB).  The Greek word rendered "content" in this verse denotes more than just a throwing up of arms in reluctant acceptance.  At its hub, it means "to be satisfied to the point where I am no longer disturbed or disquieted."

From "We Have to or We Get to?"
How about we hit the restart button when it comes to our tasks?  Let's stop pouting.  Rather, let's reframe our attitudes Colossians 3:23-style.
I don't have to clean my house.  I get to clean my house--because I have a place to call my own, while many are homeless or displaced.  And I'm serving the Lord Jesus as I clean.
I don't have to fill out this team permission slip.  I get to fill it out--because my child is healthy enough for physical activity.  And I'm serving the Lord Jesus as I write.
I don't have to drive to get groceries.  I get to do this errand--because we have enough money to purchase provisions and we own a car, so I don't have to walk.  And I'm serving the Lord Jesus as I shop.
We don't have to.  We get to.  And thanks be to God That We do. 
I am enjoying this devotional.  Reading these devotions is a great way to start my day with Jesus.

I received this book for free from the publisher through BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my honest review.

The More of Less: A Review


On Memorial Day weekend in 2008 Joshua Becker was on a mission--a mission to clean out his garage.  He planned to take everything out, clean the garage, and put everything back.  Throughout the day, his 5 year old son kept asking him to play, and Mr. Becker kept telling him that as soon as the garage was done, he could play.  Each time, he'd say, "almost done."  On that day, gazing at his driveway full of dirty, dusty possessions, Mr. Becker realized that his stuff was the source of his discontent.  He noted, "I already knew that possessions don't equal happiness.  Doesn't everybody?  At least we all profess to know that our things won't bring true satisfaction.  But in that moment, as I surveyed the pile of stuff in my driveway, another realization came to me: Not only are my possessions not bringing happiness into my life; even worse, they are actually distracting me from the things that do!"

Thus began Joshua Becker's journey toward minimalism.  In the years since that day, Mr. Becker has learned a lot about minimalism, and he shares the best of his knowledge in his book, The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own.  Minimalism is about, quite simply, owning less so that one may have more time and energy, more money, more generosity, more freedom, less stress, less distraction, less environmental impact, higher quality belongings, less comparison, and more contentment.

This is a good book.  Mr. Becker has some great advice about why and how to go about minimizing.  It's well written and engaging, with a good mixture of anecdotes, statistics, and techniques.  There is nothing special about this book, however.  I imagine there are any number of books about minimalism that contain roughly the same information.  I, personally, have been feeling drawn toward less lately, so I enjoyed the book and found it inspiring.

If you'd like to get a feel for Mr. Becker's style before committing to buying the book, check out his blog, Becoming Minimalist.

I received this book for free from the publisher through Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Menu plan for...this...week

Hey y'all.  How was your weekend?  Mine was...wet.  And a little bit muddy.  I may have had to throw away a pair of shoes.

Only four more days of school for kiddos in our neck of the woods.  Due to final exams, today is AKD's last day of classes.  It always comes up fast, but this year, it was crazy fast.

Anyway, you know the drill.  Don't expect weekly menu posts from here on out.  If I do post them, they'll just be a lovely surprise for ya.  As always, if you find yourself missing the weekly menu inspiration, check the archives.  I've got you covered, friends.

By the way, I'm still loving putting my (permanently borrowed) bread machine to work mixing and kneading my yeast doughs.  It does such a great job, and requires so little effort from me.  I'm keeping it on top of my fridge, just in case you were wondering.  Accessible enough to use a couple of times a week, but not taking up space on my counter.  We hardly ever use the things stored in that cupboard above the fridge anyway (because I can't reach them without a step stool).

Here's what's on the menu this week:

Supper:

  • Hamburgers, with or without buns, salad, grilled broccoli
  • BLTs, carrots, fresh fruit
  • Grilled chicken breasts, salad, cooked carrots
  • Hot dogs or brats, buns, chips, fresh veggies & fruit
  • Chicken nachos with taco toppings, guacamole
  • Grilled steak, grilled potato packets, broccoli/cauliflower/carrots
Skinny Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins - low-fat, no sugar added and made with greek yogurt!
{Source}
Other:

Monday, May 23, 2016

Menu plan for the week of May 23

AKD got his watch back the other day.  Actually, they decided to send him a new one.  That was nice of them, wasn't it?  They did not, however, send our rocks back.  Not to worry--my sis sent me some.  So we're all good.

Here's what's on the menu this week:

Supper:
  • BLTs, sugar snap peas, applesauce
  • Kielbasa & cauliflower stir fry, salad, carrots
  • Chicken tacos, fresh salsa, guacamole
  • Hot dogs or brats with buns, grilled broccoli
  • Chicken skewers, salad
  • Hobo pies
  • Grilled ham and/or cheese sandwiches
Can you tell we're entering the home stretch here?  Nine more days of school.  Minimal effort, y'all.  Minimal effort.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Unstuffed by Ruth Soukup: a review


Ruth Soukup's new book, Unstuffed: Decluttering Your Home, Mind & Soul, is not a typical decluttering book.  In it, the author talks about decluttering our spaces, yes, but she also talks about decluttering our minds and our souls as well.  I have long been aware of the connection between my environment and my mind.  If my environment is chaotic, so are my thoughts.  It stands to reason that it does no good to take care of decluttering my physical space, without addressing the mental and soul clutter as well.  If I don't address the inner issues, the outer clutter manifestation will creep back in.

The book is divided into three sections: home, mind, and soul, and each section is further divided into three chapters with themes such as creating a vision for your home, storage, kids, schedule, other people's stuff, cultivating real relationships, and finding balance in a chaotic world.  Ms. Soukup uses a mixture of personal stories and practical advice to inspire her readers to make lasting meaningful changes in their lives.

I really liked this book, and found it incredibly inspiring.  That's noteworthy, because often books about decluttering or cleaning leave me feeling discouraged and defeated.  It's a quick and easy read, and contains practical, doable suggestions for unstuffing your life.

For a small taste of what the book is about, enroll in the free Unstuffed 10 day challenge.
Ruth Soukup blogs at Living Well Spending Less.

I received this book for free from the publisher through Book Look Bloggers in exchange for my honest review.

Because we can

Whenever I go with my kiddos to someplace with an elevator, someplace where we need to go to the second or third floor--the library and our church come to mind--my younger kiddos will always beg, "can we take the elevator?"  I always tell them no, and when they ask me why, I tell them that we should take the stairs because we can.  They don't get it, but maybe someday they will.  In my head, I am thinking that the elevator should be reserved for people who need it.  Mamas with strollers, or folks in wheelchairs or with walkers, which is true, although I don't think those folks would mind waiting a minute or two for us to finish our ride, especially at those particular places.  But we don't need to use the elevator, so we don't.

{Source}

The other day, my trainer put a different spin on my elevator schtick when she challenged us to work out because we can, in honor of someone who can't.  She said it's likely that all of us has someone in our lives who would love to be able to do burpees or run sprints or do squats, but for whatever reason, they can't.

Do you have someone like that?  I do.  And it just tears me up that he is no longer able to do what I can do, what he used to be able to do--it's devastating.  I spent that entire third circuit with tears in my eyes, because I am heart-broken for him...and thankful for myself.

I don't love burpees.  I don't love sprints.  I don't love squats.  I don't love them because those things are hard.  I don't love them, but I will continue doing them just as long as I can.  Because I can.  None of us knows what the future holds for us, but for now, I will, because I can, in honor of those who can't.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Menu plan for the week of May 16

It's my Mama's birthday today.  And my nephew's birthday.  Happy birthday, GrandMary and BL!  We are not having birthday cake in their honor, but here's what we are having.

Three more weeks of school, by the way...

Supper:


Marinated Beef Kabobs found on KalynsKitchen.com
{Source}
Other:

Friday, May 13, 2016

A giggle for you on a rainy Friday

(at least it's not Monday, amIright?)

This used to annoy me, but now it just makes me shake my head.  Here's a screen shot of one of my mystery shops.


Did you catch it?  Probably not.  It's awfully small.



Still too small?  How's this?



Yup.  There are 21 questions in this survey, and I completed 23.  I am an overachiever.  I excel at answering survey questions.  They should give me a bonus because I am so good at this.

However, even though I answered more questions than the survey even contains, I still missed one.  A required one.
 

Not quite sure how that's even possible.

Then again, I am pretty talented.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Spreading cheer

Y'all know I'm a mystery shopper--that means I go into businesses anonymously and evaluate customer service and adherence to policies.  My very favorite assignment is shipping shops.  I actually get paid, on top of being reimbursed for my out of pocket shipping cost, to ship packages.  So. Much. Fun.

One of the requirements for these shops is that the box needs to weigh a certain amount.  This has led to me shipping some pretty random things, just to get up to the weight I need.  I sent a box of baking soda to my mama one time.  And my sis is used to me telling her she can recycle or give away or whatever she wants to do with the stuff I send her.  Her kids, by the way, are convinced that Aunt Scarlet gives the best gifts.  I guess they enjoy random?

AKD bought himself a GPS watch not too long ago, and it decided to stop connecting to satellites.  Since connecting to satellites is kind of important to the GPS function, that's kind of a problem.  The watch is under warrenty, so he contacted the company to ask what he should do.  They told him to ship the watch back and they would either fix it or send him a new one.

Meanwhile, I was assigned a couple of these shipping shop assignments, and decided, rather than paying to ship that watch back, I'd like to be paid.

So yesterday, AKD printed out the required paperwork, while I found a box and started adjusting the weight.  I was going to send them baking soda, but AKD thought that would be too weird, so we settled on rocks.  Four rocks in a ziplock bag.  Perfect.  Yeah, because baking soda is weird.

Next I needed packing material, but somehow, we didn't have any newsprint in the house.  I really don't know how this can be, since I'm saving it to suppress weeds in my garden.  So looking around for expendable paper, I decided to use the last of the homemade Christmas wrapping paper that Bubby and I painted in December.


So the watch and rocks were packed securely.  Now all we needed was packaging tape.  Except we ran out of packaging tape...oh, four months ago...and I haven't gotten around to buying any more.  What we do have is snowflake tape.


Oh yes, we do.  And oh yes, I did.

As we stood in the kitchen, taping up the package and addressing it, AKD started to giggle.  Imagine, if you will, a box, sent to a business's customer service department.  A box wrapped in snowflake tape.  A box containing, not just the merchandise to be fixed or replaced, but also hand painted Christmas wrapping paper...and four rocks.  

We're gonna make somebody's day, he said.  I can guarantee you, they have never received a box sealed with snowflake tape...with rocks in it.

I'm pretty sure he's right.  This is the stuff of legend right here.  This box is going to be talked about in the breakroom for ages.

We are absolutely doing a good deed today.  That's us, spreading cheer, one malfunctioning watch at a time.  You're welcome, world.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Fold: a Novel, a review


Step into the fold.  It's perfectly safe.  

From the back cover:

The folks in Mike Erickson's small New England town would say he's just your average, ordinary guy.  And that's exactly how he likes it.  Sure, the life he's chosen isn't much of a challenge to someone with his unique gifts, but he's content with his quiet and peaceful existence.

That is, until an old friend presents him with an irresistible mystery, one that he is uniquely qualified to solve: a team of DARPA scientists has invented a device that "folds" dimensions, promising to make mankind's dreams of teleportation a reality.  Yet evidence is mounting that this miraculous machine isn't quite what it seems--and that its creators are harboring a dangerous secret.

As his investigations draw him deeper into the puzzle, Mike begins to fear there's only one answer that makes sense.  And if he's right, it may only be a matter of time before the project destroys...everything.

The Fold: A Novel by Peter Clines is not the kind of book I usually read, but I was hooked from the start--I found it hard to put down, and finished it within a couple of days.  The characters were unique and believable, and the writing was compelling.  Mr. Clines masterfully drew me in to his world.  I enjoyed the concept of the ending, the idea of what was really happening with the fold, but found the final reveal a bit tedious--I feel like it could have ended a little sooner.

Bottom line: while I don't usually enjoy science fiction, I found this novel interesting and compelling.  And there's no way I'm going in the Fold.  :)

I received this book for free from the publisher through Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest opinion.


Jesus Today: Devotions for Kids by Sarah Young, a review


Jesus Today: Devotions for Kids by Sarah Young, adapted by Tama Fortner, is a devotional book for kids adapted from the ECPA 2013 Christian Book of the Year winner Jesus Today.  The book includes 150 short, one-page devotions, accompanied by 2-4 related scriptures written out on the facing page.  Interspersed throughout are two page spreads with an inspiring quote and an additional Bible reference.  The book also includes a scripture index.  

The problem I have always had with this book, and others by Sarah Young, is that the devotions are written in the first person, as if Jesus was speaking.  It seems a bit presumptuous of Ms. Young to speak for Jesus--if I want to know what Jesus has to say, I can read the Bible.  Ms. Young does a terrific job, though, of basing her words on scripture.  She lifts words straight from the accompanying Bible verses, and those words are italicized in the devotional reading so the reader knows they are scriptural.

I love the messages in the pages of this book.  As I mentioned, everything is based in scripture, and I have found tremendous hope and reassurance.  The devotions are written in language that young children can easily understand, with themes appropriate for children, and the short, two-page per devotion format is perfect for kiddos who are about 8-12 years old.

The main problem I still have with this book, though, is it feels terribly awkward to read these out loud, and reading out loud is how my family does devotions--none of my kiddos reads devotions on their own.  If they did, this book would be a terrific option for them.  It feels a bit blasphemous for me to be reading, out loud, something like, "I watch over and protect everyone who loves Me.  Let this promise of mine comfort you.  This promise is for you because you love Me."  As if it's actually me, and not Jesus.  I've adapted by replacing I and Me with Jesus when I read out loud, but that has been cumbersome.

Bottom line: this scripturally based devotional can be a great resource for families, if you can get over the first person writing perspective.

I received this book for free from Book Look Bloggers in exchange for my honest review.
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