Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Happy Thanksgiving to All!

I've been working on a plethora of projects, but none so enjoyable and relaxing as crocheting.

I've slowly developed my crocheting skill as I've worked on more projects this year.  I'm thrilled to be able to offer some scarves and such in my Etsy store, TheHuntshire.

As I spend this afternoon winding down with a cup'a tea, some good jams by Bon Iver, and continuing some work on my latest scarf, I am thankful for my hardworking and soft-loving husband who affords me the luxury of being a housewife.  I can pursue my interests by day and enjoy time together as a family when he returns every night.

Looking back on my posts this year, there's lots of events that I am grateful God made part of my life:
☺ We were able to give The Piggals a new place to call home.  They bring joy to everyday moments and have been a creative inspiration to me.
☺ We found a new veterinarian for our pets that we trust.
☺ Our little family's had ups-and-downs health-wise but everything seems to be improving.
☺ Living in a place where mowing the acres with my little tractor and spending the day doing these simply wonderful things can happen.
☺ I've been blessed to visit with my cousin and Hubby's family several times this year.
☺ The development of my new pumpkin pie that I'll be making again tomorrow in preparation for Thanksgiving (but with a ginger-snap crust!).

I just opened my Etsy shop for commissions this morning and I feel so thankful to be able to do something I love while providing something beautiful and useful that will enhance someone's life.  I  look forward to how this year will end and all the new things that will be part of our lives next year!  I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving and can find many nuggets in your life to be thankful for!

Bring a smile to someone's face (even if it's your own!) and order and Autumn Sky Openwork Crochet Scarf today...just in time for Christmas giving!  Handcrafted and made with love- TheHuntshire
Bring a smile to someone's face (even if it's your own!) and order and Autumn Sky Openwork Crochet Scarf today...just in time for Christmas giving!  Handcrafted and made to order with love!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Thanksgiving Prep- It's not too late!

Thanksgiving can be a cozy and festive holiday with lots of time for catching up with friends and relatives...if you're well prepared.  Here's some of my Thanksgiving prep list.  You can print it and check off as you go!

Thanksgiving can be a cozy and festive holiday with lots of time for catching up with friends and relatives...if you're well prepared.  Here's some of my Thanksgiving prep list.  You can print it and check off as you go!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Pigture of the Wheek: Luna is the Autumnal Guinea Pig

Luna is the Autumnal Guinea Pig! She's so adorable with her little handmade scarf. Perfect for fall <3 #autumn #fall #PigtureoftheWheek #guineapig #crochet #scarf
Here's a re-blog in case you don't yet follow The Piggals' photo-blog on Tumblr called Pigture of the Wheek 

Seriously, why wouldn't you want this cuteness in your Tumblr feed every week?!!

She was so good for her photo shoot!  I felt a bit ridiculous while I was crocheting the scarf for her, but I think it turned out kinda cute.  I am elbows-deep crocheting a stack of scarves I will be selling in my Etsy store in the coming weeks, so if you'd like a handcrafted (with love!) scarf for yourself or for a gift, keep and eye on this blog.  I'll be sure to announce when my sales go live.  I'll even take commissions if you'd like something personalized.
*Edit: Here's my newly opened Etsy store: TheHuntshire!
Here's where I'm taking commissions for the Autumn Sky Openwork Crochet scarf design!

My mother thinks dressing guinea pigs up and taking their picture is a bit off the deep end, but I enjoy the whimsy and creativity of it!   I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

How to Make an Autumn Care Package!

Make Someone You Love THIS happy! Send a care package! Great gift ideas for stocking stuffers and gift baskets, too!Christmas is coming soon with all of the gifts and cards and well wishes, but that doesn't mean that you have to wait to send a care package to someone you love.  
It's a great time to show someone that you are thinking of them!  Sending a care package before Christmas can show that you don't just want to give them a gift because society dictates that you should.  A non-Christmas gift can feel extra special and be uplifting.  A lot of people tend to get depressed near the winter holidays because they can't be with family or friends, they can't spend as much on gifts as they'd like, or they have Seasonal Affective Disorder.  
An uplifting little "I'm thinking of  you" gift basket won't take away those difficulties, but can sure show your support.

Do you have a child, sibling, or friend in college; a loved-one stationed away from home in the military; or know someone who lives alone?  They'd be so happy to check the mail and find a care package from you!  I'll share some of the methods I use to choose good items to include.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Gooey popcorn balls without corn syrup!

My mother lives hundreds of miles away and we haven't seen each other in many years so staying connected is sometimes more involved than a telephone call.  We both have subscriptions to Netflix and so one of the ways we remain confederate is by ordering the same movie or TV series and watch "together".  Currently my husband and I are watching Dr. Who season 3 "with" my mother.  The other day she suggested that I make some popcorn balls and I thought that would go great with our TV-time!  I haven't made them in well over a decade, so it'd be good to enjoy them again.  I really, really don't like the pre-made ones available near Halloween at the store, so I just haven't had them at all.  Fall is the classic time for these treats, but I think they're great for snacks during baseball season as well.

I love the flexibility of seasonings for these, too. They are little blank canvases and you can even enjoy flavoring each one individually if you like to also!

 I tried to follow a recipe since I was just starting to stretch my popcorn-ball-making muscles, but almost every popcorn ball recipe calls for corn syrup. Well, I'm not a big fan of it in general.  It serves a purpose, but I almost never use it and don't keep it on hand.  Running out to the store for one ingredient is a waste of an hour since I live in the boonies, so I made due with what I had...and I threw recipes out the door.

Making popcorn balls without a recipe or corn syrup.  Perfect for tv time!
Make popcorn
I popped a pile of popcorn in my cast-iron dutch oven.  Like, maybe 8 cups.
A bit of oil in the bottom, set the temp. to medium, shook it around to coat the kernels with  oil, and put the lid on with a small gap. After most had popped, Hubby dumped it out onto a piece of parchment and then put only the popped popcorn back into the dutch oven and discarded the kernels left. 

Make sticky-candy goodness!
Not being too sure what would make a chewy, gooey, but not overly sticky (messy) candy, I just winged it.  Y'know, because I make candy all the time! (I don't!) and because it's so easy! (it takes practice!).
The only ingredient amounts I actually measured was what I started with: 1/2 C wildflower honey, 4 giant Campfire brand marshmallows, and 1/4 C water.  All of that went into the pot on medium.  Once the marshmallows melted, I added about 1 T of butter and turned the heat to low.
It did that foamy, swirly, bubbly, thing that liquid candy does so I thought I was golden!
Not so much.

I dipped a piece of popcorn in, blew on it until it cooled, and tasted.  It was a sickly sweet honey flavor.  Ew. I mean, I like honey but this was like
"I'm a queen bee and I love honeeeyyy!!"
So I added a bunch of salt, like probably 2 Tablespoons of sea salt (but I wasn't measuring). 
Then Chinese five-spice, vanilla bean paste, a few Lancaster caramels (I figured, "Hey, what can it hurt? They already taste like ooey gooey caramel!")
I added a pinch of cinnamon, more salt, a big spoonful of dark brown sugar, granulated sugar, and a bit more butter.  Many tastings.  It was getting better.  Now it was more like
"I'm a bee-keeper and I love honey!"
I dropped a bit into cold water and it was at ball-state so I poured it over the popped corn, stirred, and let it cool a bit while Hubby was setting up our TV watching area by the fireplace.  We don't keep a TV in the living room, but we wanted to snuggle by the fire during our Dr. Who marathon, so he moved it <3  He's the best.

Make the balls
Then we PAM'ed our hands and formed the balls and placed them on the parchment to cool.  If the candy coating isn't cool enough it will be hard to get it to stick together instead of sticking to your hands, so make sure it's cool enough (you also don't want to get burnt by the liquid candy!! It gets super-hot.)

Pack 'em up
After the shows were over, I packed the remaining balls away by cutting the parchment I had already used and wrapped each ball like a piece of peppermint candy and twisting the ends and securing with a rubber band.  I save those fat blue bands that come on broccoli, so I just cut them in half to make two! 

Next time
These came out pretty good and the consistency of the candy was perfect (by sheer luck), but it took everything but the kitchen sink to tone down that strong honey flavor.  My takeaway from this is that I won't use that much honey for them again; it just added too much flavor. 
Some ideas to try instead:  Marshmallows (a'la krispie treats), just break down and buy corn syrup next time I'm at the store, or use granulated sugar.

Thanks to Mom for the idea, Hubby for the ambiance and companionship, and everyone who makes the awesomeness that is Doctor Who!

Friday, November 14, 2014

30 Days of Dead - Free Grateful Dead MP3 Downloads

I am extremely frugal when it comes to buying music and I will almost always wait for a deep discount before buying, so I just love it when one of my favorite bands offers free authorized music downloads!

The Grateful Dead archive site has run a promotion called 30 Days of Dead for many years; one month during which fans can download a 320Kbps MP3 daily of an unreleased and unique Grateful Dead track from the vault, selected by GD archivist and producer David Lemieux.   If ya miss a day, you have all month to download the previous days' featured MP3's.

I have used this promotion to fill out my Grateful Dead collection and I really have enjoyed getting to listen to these gems that were mostly performed before I was born!  I think it's fantastic that the GD community is just as supportive and enthusiastic about the band as ever.  The Grateful Dead were a truly unique style and sound experience and, for me, they defined a decade and lifestyle I wasn't even around to enjoy.

If you are up on your GD history, you can even enter the accompanying contest each day and win a 2015 Grateful Dead calendar that features that awesome & iconic GD art style.
*Both images used are by www.dead.net ©2006 -2012 Grateful Dead Productions

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Taste of Autumn Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkin pie is all about the spices, the texture and flavor of pumpkin, and that burnt orange color.
I love pumpkin pie.  I love the simplicity. I love the warm and inviting color.  I love that it embodies seasonal flavors in a not-too-sweet package.  But why do so many recipes get it wrong?
If you follow the label directions of the famous pumpkin puree brand, you will get a decent pie, and if passable is what you're shooting for then you are probably pretty happy with it,  however, it lacks character (seasoning), and the unctuousness that makes you close your eyes and savor it.  

After a few years of piddling around with my recipe, I decided to scrap it and completely deviate from my original (which was based on that famous pumpkin puree brand).

After a bit of searching and pondering (because pondering pie is a wonderful way to spend a day!), I crafted this recipe, created from the Pumpkin Pie recipe of Food Network's Paula Deen.  Now Mrs. Paula's pie is pretty good, but I am not a fan of pretty good.  If I am going to consume a high-calorie dessert, it better be darn great!  Blog-worthy, even!

What really makes this pumpkin pie such a standout is the creamy thickness that the cream cheese lends.  It also cuts the sweetness without cutting the amount of sugar (which is necessary for the color and texture).  You get a nice, thick pie deserving of that gorgeous dessert plate!

This pie also perfectly straddles the fence between dessert and side-dish.  I abso-freaking-lutely detest super sweet desserts and this is NOT one of them... I specifically shot for a recipe that makes you feel like you are cuddling next to a fireplace with a cuppa coffee. In fact, that would be the perfect accompaniment!


  • 8oz.  Cream Cheese, softened for an hour (Philadelphia)
  • 2C  Pumpkin puree (Libby's)
  • 1C  Granulated sugar (Domino)
  • 1/4 t  Table Salt (Morton's Iodized)
  • 1 Lg egg, 2 yolks (Pete & Gerry's)
  • 1 C  Half & Half (Market Pantry)
  • 1/4 C Butter, unsalted, melted (Trader Joe's)
  • 1 t  Pure vanilla bean paste (Nielsen-Massey) *Read note about the paste*
  • 1 t Saigon Cinnamon, ground (The Fresh Market)
  • 1/4 t Ginger, ground (Trader Joe's)
  • 1/2 t Allspice (freshly ground from berries)
  • 1/4 t Cloves, ground (Trader Joe's)
  • 1/4 t Nutmeg, freshly shaved (Trader Joe's)
  • Pie dough


  1. Set out cream cheese and butter to soften for an hour
  2. Prepare pie dough if necessary (if you are being lazy like me, just use Pillsbury Pie Crust and take it out of the fridge 15 minutes before prep-time so it can be successfully rolled into the pie dish.
  3.  Preheat the oven to 350° after the cream cheese has gotten really soft and you are ready to start making the pie.
  4. Roll dough into a 9" pie dish and press firmly into the sides and bottom of the dish.  Cut off excess (save them for a mini-pie!) and crimp the edges.  To make the design in the pie pictured, I placed one index finger flat against the inside rim and rolled the adjacent section down, alternating all the way around.
  5. Place the pie crust in the freezer. Take a 10 minute break. I usually take this time to tidy up where I've been working and get everything prepped for mixing.
  6. Pre-bake the crust- Place aluminum foil into the crust and fill with blind baking beans.  Bake in pre-heated 350°oven for 10 minutes, remove the foil and beans, bake for about 10 minutes more.  It should look toasty and dry.
  7. Make the filling in a large mixing bowl while the crust is pre-baking.
    1.  Beat the softened cream cheese with a hand mixer until it's whippy.
    2.  Add spices (they will help color the cream cheese)
    3.  Add pumpkin and beat on medium to combine.
    4.  Add sugar & salt and beat on medium to combine.
    5.  In a small bowl, combine eggs, half & half, and melted butter.  (Do not add hot melted butter!)
    6. Add liquid mixture to pumpkin mixture and beat on low to combine.
  8. Pour into prepared pie crust and bake at 350° 60-90 minutes until the center is set.
  9. Cool on a wire rack to room temperature (about an hour) and then refrigerate.
* A few notes*

Okay, so about that vanilla paste:  Hubby made a whoopsie at the store when he picked it up for me on his way home from work one day.  I didn't even know this product existed.  It looks JUST like the regular vanilla extract by that brand, but it has a wider mouth on the bottle.  I opened it to discover it was a thick liquid!  I read the bottle to find out that it measures the same so I used it and I'm officially a convert!  The only time I'll use the liquid again is in frostings and drinks and such.. This thicker stuff was perfect in my batter and it was easy to dip my measuring spoon in.

I do occasionally like to use molasses, brown sugar, or maple syrup to sweeten my autumn pies, and I haven't experimented with this pie yet.  I think sweetening and flavoring whipping cream with one of those to garnish would be lovely.

I include the brand names and links to specific products I've used mostly for my personal use in case I decide to tweak a recipe later or something doesn't come out quite right.  I am not sponsored by any of the brands used in this recipe. 

There will be a bit of crust and batter left over, so stuff a ramekin and bake it off at the same time.  You know, for SCIENCE!

The pic was a quickie I took to share with my mom via iPhone, so it's not really great, but that pie was cut up and devoured before I even thought about blogging it :D
Oh well, I'll have to make another one to get a better pic, right?!
What are your favorite pumpkin pie ingredients? What do you like to pair with it or garnish it with?

Friday, November 7, 2014

See my buddy, Mr.Groundhog

We have a few fat, adorable groundhogs on our property. This one
doesn't mind my company so I filmed him while he was eating one day.
His day time hidey-hole is in the vid behind him.  This was filmed last autumn.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Why I haven't blogged in a month

Well, I'm sure no one is sitting around wondering what I've been up to in my month of absence, but for posterity or for the curious, I'll share.

Almost exactly a month ago I got back into the most addicting game, World of Warcraft.  I hadn't played since the 2012 release of the last expansion, Mists of Pandaria.

I really enjoyed it but since then we have moved out to the boonies where high speed internet is only available via AT&T 4G hotspot.  It's pretty pricey, but with the recent Apple iPhone 6 release, AT&T offered a new plan that doubled our data to 60GB/month for $100 less than what we were previously paying for 30GB.  I finally had the data to update the game and get back into WoW just in time for the November 13th release of the next expansion, Warlords of Draenor and WoW's 10th anniversary!

It's been a fun distraction from the stress I've been dealing with, sick kitty, sick piggie, house-hunting anxiety, daily aches & pains, and family issues.  The kit-kat and guinea pig are both fine now, thanks to a great new vet and extra TLC from Hubby.

It's also been nice to reconnect with a good Christian friend I used to play Star Wars The Old Republic (SWTOR) and The Elder Scrolls Online (TESO) with.  He introduced me to a great guild full of generous and active players.  Learning the ropes again has been pleasant and fun.  I made a new character and leveled her to 90. I've never gotten a character that high and there was lots of new things to see and do.
WoW Worgen Druid Gaelgrimma lvl90

Now that I am re-established with the game play and have my character topped out, I will be settling back into a more regular daily schedule.

Have you ever used a hobby as a distraction from stress in your life?  Do you think it's healthy?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Earning Amazon Gift Cards with Bing

 Sign up with Bing Rewards!
 I just redeemed my Bing Rewards points for another $5 Amazon gift card!  I've lost count of how much I've earned, but it's well over a hundred dollars.  I've redeemed for Amazon gift cards (I'm obsessed with shopping  there!) and Xbox Live gift cards the most.

If you want to sign up too, just follow my referral link (I'll get a 200 point credit boost to my Bing account if you reach Silver Status in your first 60 days).  Win/Win!

It really is an awesome program.  Bing awards points for every search you do.  No toolbar required or anything.  It's so easy and I actually love Bing Search the best!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Pigture of the Wheek! Week #1

I started a cute Tumblr called "Pigture of the Wheek".

It will feature an adorable, original guinea pig picture every week!

Remember to "Follow" when you get there so you'll get to see a delightful piggy weekly.

      Wheek!  ✿ Buttercup reads a book ✿ The first featured guinea pig picture of the week!


✿ Buttercup reads a book ✿

The first featured guinea pig picture of the week!

I don't have enough blogs/photo journals/projects (HA!) so I thought I'd make a photo Tumblr for my guinea pig pictures!  I think they are just adorable and I love to share the joy!

This first photo was one I already had; it was taken in August 2014 but it was a good one to get the photo blog going.

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Motivation Train has Entered the Station!

I'm not sure what's caused the sudden rejuvenation of spirit I've felt in the last couple of weeks, but I'll ride this train until it gets to where it's going!  I've really felt motivated to plan a house-hunting trip to the Catskills, knuckle-down on my nutrition and exercise regimen , and get a few crafts projects done! Yes, I said DONE!

This kind of confluence almost never happens, and I know I should have the determination to do these things even when I am not motivated.

I have lost 4 pounds in two weeks and here's how I did it:
  1. My Fitness Pal app on my iPhone

    I set my goal weight and time-frame I want to reach it. 
    I enter my age, gender, weight, etc. So it can calculate the total number of calories I should be consuming daily.
    I enter everything I eat and any exercise I do each day.  I record my weight.
    I eat under the prescribed number of calories each day and check my nutritional content to make sure my carbs, fats, and proteins are balanced.
  2. Your Shape Fitness Evolved 2012 on Xbox 360

    Yes, I play a video game to help me get active and lose weight.  This is my first fitness title on the Xbox 360 and it's pretty good.  I've been using it at least 3X's a week and I have noticed that I am getting better at some activities.
    I really feel like this is one of the major reasons that I have felt so uplifted lately.  Mood enhancing endorphins are flowing through my system much more post-workout (which I try to do in the morning) and I feel like my day is much more productive afterwards.  No more sluggish feeling.
  3. Ovia Fertility app

    Okay, that probably doesn't sound like a fitness tool, but it's been pretty great!  It is an iPhone app focused on fertility and tracking cycles, but it's a great health journal as well.  I can record my moods, symptoms, sleep, blood pressure, weight, nutrition, activity, and medications daily.
    Recording this information daily has helped me become more aware of what's affecting my body and I feel it will be a great record that I can use to communicate more effectively with my doctor. 
    I encourage my lady-readers to check it out.  It's free!
  4. Walking

    My husband has supported my dedication to change by making time a few mornings a week to go on a walk together.  We live in such a pastoral area and it's so nice to get out and enjoy it at a slower pace (at least before the snow comes!).
    I've gotten some beautiful photos along the way which is inspirational and hopefully marketable.  And it's always good to spend some quiet time together in the beauty of nature. 
    The 2-5 miles a few times a week has been doable with noticeable benefits.
I am encouraged by the results and I just can't wait to see more progress.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Lazy, Rainy Summer Day

It's been a lazy, rainy summer day.  I spent the morning on the porch finishing A Book By Its Cover, the fifth book in the Guideposts series I am reading called Secrets of Mary's Bookshop.  I previously wrote a review about the first book in the series and intend to share my opinions about the others soon. 

Anakin lounging on the pillows enjoying the lazy, rainy day
Anakin lounging on the pillows enjoying the lazy, rainy day

I love spending these quiet times alone with my thoughts or a good book, and my furry companion, Ani, makes serene moments complete. 

Mother and I had a good back-and-forth going this morning on Angry Birds Friends.  It's always fun when I think I've bested her and then I log in to see she's topped me again.  She texted me to let me know she had done just that.  She had a doctor's appointment but she had time to chat with me about the new book I started immediately after finishing the last one, Agatha Christie's Five Complete Hercule Poirot Novels which includes Thirteen at Dinner, Murder on the Orient Express, The ABC Murders, Cards on the Table, and Death on the Nile.  I'd never read an Agatha Christie novel but of course I've heard of her and after picking up this hardback at a local Friends of the Library used bookstore, I was anxious to get immersed.  Mother also had time before she headed home from the city where her doctor's appointment was to let me know that she was in the drive-through at our most favorite barbeque joint, Sonny's.  I haven't been there in many years because the closest location is about 4 hours from my house, so she was kinda rubbing it in that she was having Sonny's for lunch.  It made my lunch of boxed mac 'n cheese seem heinously unappetizing by comparison.

While walking by our large front window, I noticed a little butterfly perched tenuously on a bright pink thistle blossom.  I ran out to snap a pic.

Swallowtail Butterfly Papilioninae on a pink Thistle blossom
Swallowtail Butterfly Papilioninae on a pink Thistle blossom

And that's why I carry my phone everywhere I go.

Every time I got on a social media site today and yesterday, I saw news about the suicide of Robin Williams.  I have always been afraid to enjoy comedians' work because I feel most of them are haunted by pain and tragedy and that is the source for their comedy.  I am particularly reminded of the life and death of Andy Kaufman, John Belushi, and Chris Farley and comedians like Jim Carrey and Robin Williams always give me chill just when I want to laugh most.  I swear I can see the pain behind the smile and it hurts me. 

A high school acquaintance of mine recently committed suicide as well.  Mother told me that her friend died this morning.  After a death there are memorials, heartfelt messages of compassion and love, support for family, and kind gestures.  Those words of gratitude, appreciation, love, or shared moments are words that every person longs to hear.  So why aren't they shared with friends and family while they are still alive? How many suicides would be thwarted if people were as outspoken about their support, love and tenderness toward each other everyday instead of just the days after a death?  How many accident victims would spend their last moments knowing they were loved and were meaningful in others' lives?  I have had depression...or rather, depression had me, and during the worst times the only friend I had was my husband.  I wonder if I were to die today, would there be an outpouring of love and affection that has been unbeknownst to me for these decades in which I've needed friendly help.  Sure, I have tons of social media "friends", mostly old school-mates or co-workers, but the last time I got a phone call from a friend was...about three years ago.  And he called because he needed help from me.  As hard as it is for me, I still initiate connections time and time again without friendly return. 
Maybe I should become a comedian......

I have been praying for my brother, Jordan, who is going through some medically, financially, and emotionally trying times and after this morning's prayer for him, Mother texted me to let me know that my husband's father, Roger, who lives near Jordan, stopped by to help him fix his vehicle which was currently nonoperational in a parking lot.  It was just one of the things I had prayed about; I wanted God to make clear to him his own strength and ability to help himself so that he could use the resources around him to steer himself out of the muck his life has been sliding into.  I am so thankful for my father-in-law who had asked my husband how my brother had been doing and upon hearing of the problem with his car, took the time and effort to help him get it fixed enough to get it home.  Despite the hardships in his own life, he always takes time to help others, God bless him.

I had sent Jordan a Bible verse yesterday as a bit of inspiration:

2 Timothy 1:7
"For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind."

I wanted to remind him to give his worries to God and that He has provided what he'd need to pull through....and that we loved him.

I hope I have made the people in my life feel the love that I have for them.    

Friday, August 8, 2014

Book Review: A New Chapter by Kristin Eckhardt 2012

A New Chapter (Secrets of Marys Bookshop, #1)A New Chapter by Kristin Eckhardt
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Book #1 - Secrets of Mary's Bookshop
 Guideposts series

My first experience with a Guideposts book series was an enjoyable one. This first book in the Secrets of Mary's Bookshop series entitled "A New Chapter" and written by Kristin Eckhardt managed to paint a lovely picture of a fictional seaside town based in the Cape Cod area of Massachusetts and, in fact, has inspired me to plan a trip to the area at the end of this summer. I have never visited MA but I have always loved traveling and adventuring and this book, which takes place at the end of spring, renewed my interest of visiting the area.

The setting was lovely but the mystery itself was a real drag. Every time the story touched on the mystery at hand, I felt like I was putting on my fishing waders to get through it. In other words, the main plot line was far more interesting than the mystery. If you prefer to have the relevant clues to solve the mystery yourself, you are out of luck. I felt the resolution to the conundrum was lackluster and a bit forced. I do, however, very much appreciate that this title wrapped up without a cliffhanger. I felt that all loose ends were tied and now, my being on the fourth book in the series, I see that each title was designed to each stand on its own as a complete story. There are references to past events in previous books in the series so the story builds, but the reader is never intended to feel in the dark about a plot line.

This book, as well as the whole series, is Christian inspired and there are references to relevant Bible verses and teachings scattered amongst the pages as characters give inner monologue. It is very casual, so even a non-Christian or non-religious reader should not feel preached-at. The book features ordinary people in an ordinary town behaving like most people of faith would. It was quite nice to read a story who features a Christian main character who was not aggressively so. There were inspiring and teachable moments where story intersected faith, but the story was stronger for doing so. Overall the book is very positive and inspiring.

I rated this book two stars ("it was ok"), which doesn't sound very nice seeing as I have mostly good things to say about it. I am a lover of classic literature and fantasy so this type of book, a casual mystery that can be read in a day, is very far from my comfort zone. I feel like a dirty little literate for reading what I feel is mostly a time-passer. If you have an afternoon to read on the shore, preferably in the Cape Cod area, this would be a perfect read. The story is easy, the characters are vague, and the mystery is not very compelling, but I am glad I read the book for the inspiration it has brought to me.

View all my Goodreads reviews

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Don't have lunch with me at LJS!

I recently had a very disappointing lunch at Long John Silver's in Orange, VA.

Read my Review of LJS on Yelp to see what happened!

Read my Review of LJS on Yelp

What would you think of this meal??

You can comment about my review and commiserate with me right here on my blog :)

Monday, July 21, 2014

Book Review: Under the Dome by Stephen King 2009

Under the DomeUnder the Dome by Stephen King
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I felt as if I were under a dome as I was reading this novel by Mr. Stephen King. I began as an optimistic reader, curious, and ready for the ride to start. As I neared the end, I felt like I was running out of oxygen and my taste buds were gummed up with poisonous soot that I couldn't wait to spit out and be done with. While I admire anyone who records their creative effort, I regret having ever gotten the idea to read this book. A fine story perhaps to some, but not to this reader.

My S.K. past:
I have watched the first few intriguing episodes of the first season of the television show of the same name that was based on this book. I won't make any comparisons between the two, but the show is what inspired me to read the book.
I have not read many of Mr. King's novels, but it seems the couple I recall, The Tommyknockers The Tommyknockers by Stephen Kingand Lisey's Story Lisey's Story by Stephen King, gave me the same empty feeling at the end. I had endured so much, invested so much time and imagination and wondering; Under the Dome's conclusion reflected the same disappointment I felt with those other titles. I actually felt a twinge of apprehension as I read and began seeing the similarities between the set-up in Under the Dome and The Tommyknockers in particular.

Reading this book made me feel as though I were going to a theme park:
Seeing it on TV made me want to go. I excitedly waited in line for my turn on the roller coaster, watching other people go ahead of me. I boarded the coaster car and felt a bit nervous, but secure...millions of people before me had ridden, and there were lots of roller coasters designed by the same architect. I was excited, and a bit apprehensive, for the ride to start. The coaster climbed, slowly at first, then picking up speed it clacked up the track at an increasing pace. It seemed like it took forever to reach the top! When I thought I couldn't stand it any longer, the bottom dropped out from under me...but only for a second. It was just that first little dip you hit after the climax of the roller coaster before it goes speeding down. You know the good part is coming; you're expecting a great whoosh! and your tummy to do flips while you smile and scream all the way down.

But all that happened was a flat-line. A complete disappointment. The coaster chugs along, almost unnoticeably descending, until you are back on Terra Firma. I'm so disappointed that I may never want to ride another roller coaster again.

My final thought that I will share about this novel is that I was irritated by its pessimism. A line repeated often in the book is,"Hope for the best. Prepare for the worst." and I feel that is a stunning statement to summarize my feelings about this tale. Every good I hoped for was dashed against a senselessly invisible barrier. Every chapter held disappointment after disappointment, and while the basic premise and moral of the story was interesting to explore and ponder, the lack of goodness of the characters seemed unrealistic (at least in my, perhaps naive, existence). To live in a world populated by such evil beings as those in this book, would be a torturous existence.

Dear prospective readers, the nearly 1,000 pages of wind-up ends with Mr. King's change-up pitch. If you're a fan of his writing, that will be okay because,
"It's a small town, 
you know what I mean.
 It's a small town, son,
 and we all support the team."

But as for me, I hope to read something wondrous next so as to wash this acrid taste out of my mouth.

View all my reviews

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Beautiful Skies and Promises of Better Days

Sunlight streaming through clouds. Blue Ridge Mountains. Nature
One of the things that I am so thankful for since moving here to the mountains is the beautiful and awe-inspiring vistas.  Natural beauty is abundant here and even on the foggiest, dreariest, coldest day, the soul-filling serenity is as boundless as God's Love.

I have many days that I spend in pain and imagine how much harder my life would be if I didn't have the benefit of being able to stay at home while my husband works hard to support us.  Even on my worst days, just looking out of the window from my bed and seeing a fawn play with his mother or the birds soar, or the gorgeous sky fills me with hope and happiness.
A beautiful sunset over the Blue Ridge Mountains

I am not sure what this life has in store for me, and I will never stop looking for greener grass, but in the meantime I am happy to stop and smell the roses...or watch the sunset for the five-hundredth time.  If this is all there is, I am learning the patience of contentment.

Sappy Reflection Time is over.

So July is a busy month of birthdays in my family (lots of folks getting busy in September!).  My sister-in-law's fiancee, Brother, Father, and Hubby were all born in July.  Hubby and I invited the fiancee and family up for his birthday and we had a fun day of fishing, catching up, and of course, eating a lovely summer feast.
Low country boil at sunset Low Country Boil Fresh corn * smoked sausage * new potatoes * peel-on shrimp 1/2 C Old Bay * 2T sea salt * 8Q water Boil water with seasoning. Add potatoes. Cook 13 min.  Add corn. Cook 5 min.  Add shrimp and sausage, Cook 3-4 min. Drain. Dump onto paper or plastic tablecloth and dig in!
Brother has had some medical issues; he just found out that he has a bleeding ulcer.  I am unsure of how truthful he's being about the pain or the diagnosis because of discrepancies his story has had when telling Mother, Hubby, and me.  But I love him completely, fibs and all.  I hope he finds the  fulfillment he is seeking and desperate for.  I feel like he is lost in this life but that providing him with a guide would blind him further. I think it's in his best interest to find his own way out of the hole so that his roots will be firm.  He's been helped out of the hole so many times that he has become weak and reliant.  I hope and I pray that he will see the lights before his life is over and he has too many regrets.

Here's one of the cards I made this month
Happy Birthday card. #bunny #rabbit #sunshine #woodland animals #Aviary
This was taken in our driveway. Just another cute bunny crossing the driveway...and then I embellished it using the Aviary app on my phone.  I thought this was pretty cute.

Have Lunch with Me: BBQ Chicken

Have Lunch with Me: BBQ Chicken.  Simple, fast way to turn last night's leftovers into a yummy lunch.
Have Lunch with Me: BBQ Chicken
Today's leftover to recreate was a portion of chicken that Hubby and I had grilled over the weekend.  It'd be great just reheated, but even better shredded and doused in BBQ sauce and served on a piece of whole wheat toast.

  • Strip all of the meat from the bone.
  • Heat a pan to med-low and add a smidge of olive oil.
  • Add chicken to the heated pan
  • Add BBQ sauce and spices to taste
  • Heat until warmed through and serve open faced on warm toast
  • Top with Trader Joe's Fried Onion Pieces for a bit of crunch
I used a mixture of KC Masterpiece and a local BBQ shack's sauce called Shawn's Smokehouse Barbeque (in Culpeper, VA).  I also added a few grinds of garlic salt and cracked black pepper.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Have Lunch with Me: Biscuits 'n Chowda

Even though I'm a housewife with lots of time during the day to piddle around and do what I like, I'd rather spend my time on one of my many projects than cooking and cleaning.  I love cooking and I actually don't mind cleaning, but it loses its appeal when it's just for me.  I cheat by making fast, simple, easy-to-clean up lunches for one like this one:

Biscuits 'n Chowda My easy lunchtime take on Biscuits and Gravy. Pepperidge Farm Garlic Cheese Biscuits, Campbell's Chunky New England Clam Chowder, White Pepper
Biscuits 'n Chowda
My easy lunchtime take on Biscuits and Gravy

 →2 leftover Pepperidge Farm Garlic Cheese Biscuits

I popped these in the oven for about 7 minutes.  I don't have a microwave; 'nuking them would be fast, but leave them a bit soggy.

→Half of a can of Campbell's Chunky New England Clam Chowder

I reheated this in a small pot on the stove, but again, this would be faster in the microwave.

→White pepper to taste.

It has that flaky-creamy-peppery thing going on that is reminiscent of traditional southern biscuits 'n gravy, but with more protein, less fat and calories, and is much easier to prepare.  At 560 calories (most of that is the biscuits!), it's not low-calorie, but I had a skimpy fruit-only breakfast, so it was a good complement to that.

Lunches like these Biscuits and Chowder are great for single-servings and would even be a hearty and warm microwavable workplace lunch.

My take on Biscuits and Gravy is simple, fast, and is great for incorporating leftovers.
That's just what I did here.  I had two leftover biscuits from dinner the night before and half a can of the chowder.  Heat and Eat!

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Sarah Kate Hunt

Monday, July 14, 2014

How to Clean a Midwest Guinea Pig Cage with Fleece Bedding

Midwest Guinea pig Habitat cleaning guide for fleece bedding
The guinea pig area
 I've been asked how I clean my guinea pigs' Midwest Cage so I thought I'd post a photo tutorial on my process in case anyone wanted some tips. 
I adopted these three girls, who I lovingly call The Piggals, a short time ago and my husband and I are building them a big habitat, but in the meantime they are living in the 8 sq ft. cage that they came home in.  It's on the small size for three of them but would be well suited for two if given adequate daily playtime outside of the pen.

The Midwest Guinea Habitat cage consists of the waterproof PVS/ canvas base, interlocking wire sides, and a wire top. 
We do not use the top normally, but we keep it on hand to help section off areas for the pigs to play in on the floor.
I set up the cage so that the wire side that is easiest to unhook is on the front (one side just has pins that hold the corner together) since I take the front off every day for cleaning.

I clean the guinea pig cage every morning and today is no exception; this is one day's mess.

Guinea Pig Fancy says, "Hey girls! I think I smell Mama...and breakfast!"
Guinea Pig Fancy says,
"Hey girls! I think I smell Mama...and breakfast!"
"Hey Buttercup, do you see Mama yet?"
"Hey Buttercup, do you see Mama yet?"
"There she is!"
"There she is!"
One day of mess for three guinea pigs.
One day of mess for three guinea pigs.

Guinea Pig breakfast: romaine lettuce, blueberries, carrots, cucumber.
Guinea Pig breakfast:
romaine lettuce, blueberries, carrots, cucumber.

I have their Breakfast ready before I go to their cage.  When I turn on my classical music and make kissy-noises at them, they know it's time for breakfast (and time for their house to get cleaned!).

I section off an area for them to play in using the front and top of their cage.  I pull out the desk their cage sits on so they can play under it.
I section off an area for them to play in using the front and top of their cage.
  I pull out the desk their cage sits on so they can play under it.

Guinea Pigs eating breakfast
Guinea Pigs eating breakfast

The Piggals go camping! Mike got a display tent from a sporting goods store and attached it to a cardboard box. Our pets love playing in it.
The Piggals go camping!
Mike got a display tent from a sporting goods store and attached it to a cardboard box.
Our pets love playing in it.
Sweep it all to the front and center.
Sweep it all to the front and center.
Use a dust pan to hold the fleece taut while sweeping.
Use a dust pan to hold the fleece taut while sweeping.
Clean the food dishes.  Rinse and let dry.
Clean the food dishes.  Rinse and let dry.
Washing the water bottle with homemade castille soap and a bottle brush. Nail polish is Orly in Berry Blast.
Washing the water bottle with homemade castille soap and a bottle brush.
Nail polish is Orly in Berry Blast.
I know there's polish-a-holics out there in piggie-land ;)
Washing the water bottle spout and gasket with a cotton swab and castille soap.  Nail Polish is Orly in Berry Blast.
Washing the water bottle spout and gasket with a cotton swab and castille soap.
Nail Polish is Orly in Berry Blast.
Wipe the pans with a disinfectant solution of vinegar and water.  
U-Haul cotton blanket padding.  Clean & dry.  Washed weekly.
U-Haul cotton blanket padding. 
Clean & dry.  Washed weekly.
Clean fleece blanket tucked around cotton pad. Washed every other day.
Clean fleece blanket tucked around cotton pad.
Washed every other day.
Tuck the excess material around the blanket and keep the fleece taut for easier spot-cleaning and sweeping.
Tuck the excess material around the blanket and
keep the fleece taut for easier spot-cleaning and sweeping.
Line the litter pans with puppy wee pads.
Line the litter pans with puppy wee pads.
 The beige pan is actually the base of the cage that our rabbit, Duchess, was housed in for 3 years by the family we rescued her from.  It is way too small for a guinea pig...let alone a rabbit!! We used this base from that cage as her litter pan.  It works well in this set-up for the time being, too, because it keeps all the messy hay and litter contained so the fleece stays clean.  The purple pan is a corner littler tray sold for rabbits.  I cut one wee pad in half diagonally to fit the corner pan.  These pigs don't nibble the plastic backing, but if yours do, please don't use these liners.  It could be dangerous for them to ingest it.

Fill corner potty with absorbent litter material. This is a mix of Kaytee Clean & Cozy Small Animal bedding in Lavender and Original.
Fill corner potty with absorbent litter material.
This is a mix of Kaytee Clean & Cozy Small Animal bedding in Lavender and Original.
 The Kaytee Clean & Cozy Small Animal Bedding is okay, but I think I will switch back to the Carefresh that I used to use for my rabbit when I am out of what I have.  I just don't like how small and light the pieces are because it tracks onto the fleece easily.  With this system, a little goes a long way.  I emptied 2- 1000 cu in packages into my tote and fluffed it up a bit.  I've used it a month now and there's still plenty left.  I mixed the lavender and original.  I do like the light scent but I felt it was too strong for guinea pig noses (and respiratory system), so I mix it which seems to be pretty perfect.
Fill the hay bin.  I keep part of a bale in this container under their pen for easy access.
Fill the hay bin. 
I keep part of a bale in this container under their pen for easy access.
 I buy the Oxbow hays, which are wonderful, and a whole bale of hay.  The Oxbow is given as a special treat as it's REALLY expensive ($10-ish for the larger bag), but it is wonderful quality so I don't mind the splurge now and then.  I live in hay country, the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, so lovely, fresh hay is very inexpensive ($4-ish/bale) and plentiful.  Keeping the hay dark, dry, and bug-free is essential.  If it doesn't smell good, don't feed it to your pigs ...or even keep it in the same room as them.
Oxbow Essentials Adult Guinea Pig food in a clean, dry bowl.
Oxbow Essentials Adult Guinea Pig food in a clean, dry bowl.
 I fed the rabbit variety to my Duchess and it was very good.  They didn't have this brand the last time I had guinea pigs but it's highly recommended and the only pellet we feed them.
Cute guinea pigs happily exploring their clean home.
Cute guinea pigs happily exploring their clean home.
 Everything is put back into their home (don't forget the water bottle!!)
They head right for the hay...it's their favorite!
They head right for the hay...it's their favorite!
Luna under the rain flap of her tent.
"Thanks for watching our morning routine!"
Daily routine:
  1. Breakfast & playtime on the floor (be careful there are no wires or other dangers!)
  2. Take out the dishes, toys, pigloos, etc
  3. Roll up & trash the wee pads
  4. Take out pans and wipe if necessary
  5. Sweep poos/litter/hay to the front and then into pan and discard
  6. Shake fleece blanket outside if necessary (Wash every other day)
  7. Make sure underside of U-Haul pad is clean and dry
  8. Replace the fleece blanket and straighten
  9. Replace the pans and line with wee pads (add litter to corner pan)
  10. Replace pigloos/toys, etc
  11. Rinse and refill water bottle
  12. Wipe and fill food and hay bins
  13. Piggies come back home!
This daily routine takes me about 15 minutes total.

Other Routine:
  1. Weekly- All accessories cleaned (water bottle, dishes, pans, pigloos, toys, etc.)
  2. Weekly- Cleaning supplies cleaned (sweeper and pan, outside of the totes, food scoop, etc)
  3. Weekly- U-Haul cotton blanket washed
  4. Monthly- Canvas bottom and wire cage washed