Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Getting Rid of "Me"

This house. The one I slave over, hate and love at the same time.

It's a freaking mess. I'm sure I have told you that before. I have some strange hoarder thing that has popped up in my life, and I don't like it being there. I like nice things. I like clean things. I like order and (somewhat) routine.

You sure would not be able to guess any of those things by stepping in my front door and taking a gander at the place I call home.

Guess what? I've got some decisions to make and resolutions to make and keep.

The hoarder HAS to go. That's all there is to that. I have no room for that kind of dysfunction in my life.

I also have been hoarding some weight. I need to let go of about 40 pounds. I will look better, my clothes will fit better, and I will definitely feel better, much better. I know this because I have done it before, and I am going to do it again.

This will be the year that I will put myself back into counseling in order to grab this anxiety/depression/panic thing by the butt and kick it to the curb. I can't let it control me anymore. Can't let it keep me from doing things anymore. I need to surround myself with positive people and make more positive choices about my life.

The money management issue is going very well. I am paying down debt and saving for ME. That is definitely going to carry on throughout 2015. Going to a financial planner is one of the best things I have ever done for myself. I need to file a will and power of attorney documents, and the money monster might finally be manageable for me.

These things are not "want to's" anymore. They are "have to's". With all the guts I have in me, they WILL get done. I am hoping that 2015, my 53rd year of life, will be one I am proud of.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Stockings To Hang By the Chimney With Care...


One thing I need for my Christmas house is to make myself a new Christmas stocking.  I think this one is flat out adorable and would look absolutely great on the mantel...

"Special Delivery" by Birds of a Feather

Home At the Holidays

In my basement, there is a treasure trove of shutters--indoor, outdoor, wood tones and painted, many sizes and styles. These shutters were a kind of "inheritance" from the former (original) owners of the home, who I think had some combination of shutters on every window in the house when I moved in eight years ago.  At that time, I had removed many of them because the house always seemed so dark with them in the windows.

I haven't even counted them yet to see how many I do have, but I have been pulling them out of the rafters of the basement, just to look at them and to see what I can do with them.  There are so many unique designs--the familiar louvered panel, solid wood panels, glass insets in panels.  

Right now on Pinterest and in home and craft magazines, shutters are hot decorator/DIY items.  I have seen everything from bookshelves to wardrobes to plant stands made out of repurposed shutters.  As a matter of fact, I have taken four of them and am in the process of creating a fire screen for the fireplace in the living room.  I earlier made a divider screen with larger outdoor-type shutters that now lives in my family room

Since it's Christmas and I always like to add things to my holiday decor to keep things fresh (and as time and my budget will allow), I was wandering around my house, matching and rearranging different items to see how they looked together.  I took the evergreen swag, which I had had for a while, and one of the shutters (which fortunately had been painted red at some point in the past), and put the two together.  Just like peanut butter and chocolate, the separate items together created a very comfy, rustic Christmas feel.  I strung a bit of floral wire to the back like a picture frame hanger, and voila!  This pretty piece now graces a doorway inside my house.  I did try to hang it outside (as shown here), but the wind can be pretty stiff across my porch in the wintertime and I didn't feel comfortable leaving it there.

Creativity--and necessity--can sometimes join together to be the co-mothers of invention.  I'm proud that I might have hit that sweet spot with this piece of inspiration.  Hopefully, there are more like this to come!


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Getting an Early Start On the Holidays...

"Christmas Fruit Basket Pinkeep" by Threadwork Primitives

My goodness, isn't this gorgeous?  So simple, yet it celebrates the season in the primitive style that I love to stitch.  Another one added to the stash list...

Hearty Thanksgiving Greeting


I'm not sure who the artist and creator of this vintage Thanksgiving card is or was, but the design really appeals to me.  The woman harvesting the pumpkins with the corn shock in the background is my vision of the essence of the holiday; giving thanks for the people and things you have--the most bountiful harvest there is.

Getting Rid of the Clutter

My house is a freaking mess.

Maybe I'm lazy, maybe I having hoarding tendencies, maybe I'm too sentimental and can't give anything up, maybe I'm overwhelmed with trying to keep a house and yard presentable all by myself, maybe I am exhausted.  I will claim any or a combination of these for the reason that my house looks like a place where wild animals live.

I really am trying to get it back to presentable and awesome.  I have Goodwill bags all over the house full of unwanted kitchen items and clothing that should have been pitched years ago.  I make progress, but then turn around and everything left seems to have multiplied by three while I wasn't looking.  It's very discouraging, but I keep on keepin' on.  One of these days, it will look great and I will be proud to call it mine and share it with others.

But, sitting here thinking about it, my house is not the only thing that is a mess.  My mind is cluttered with too much stuff that, now that I ponder it, really doesn't have much to do with my life at all.  The anxiety I deal with on a daily basis tends to pile on and make things way worse then they really are. An unexpected bill, piled-up laundry, or the realization that a roof replacement job is in my immediate future does nothing to allay any fears and give me any sense of calm and relief.

My financial situation is teetering on the edge of the cliff of "okayness".  Best thing I have done for myself in quite a while is to have gone to a financial advisor this past summer to get all my investment ducks in a row and have my money start making money for me.  The cost of living keeps rising while this girl's income stays stagnant, and all of a sudden I have things to act upon that I never dreamed I would have to consider.  It creates a very frightening scenario.

Right now, my personal life is not the life I want.  I go to work every day and come home exhausted, both mentally and physically.  It's dark now when I come home, too, which adds a seasonal depression angle to the mix.  And coming home to an empty, dark, quiet house is, quite frankly, depressing.  Lots of times I wind up on the living room sofa for the evening, covered in a blanket and wasting time I could be doing something to improve the situation.

My body is not up to snuff right now, either.  I have constant back pain, I can't afford dental treatment that my dentist has prescribed for me.  My left leg falls asleep when I walk any kind of distance.  And don't even get me started on the meds I take for my panic and anxiety.  I really don't know anymore if they are doing any good.  My head feels like I am in a fog most of the time.  And the tiredness, the exhaustion; I can't even begin to explain how overwhelming it is.

It's up to me to choose, though, and choose I MUST do.  I can continue to live in this fear paralysis and hide from the world, or I can get up off my duff and do something about it.  I've got a LOT of cleaning to do in many of my houses, and I need to start NOW.  Clearing out the clutter--in more ways than one--may make all the difference in the world.  I won't know till I get there, will I?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Thanksgiving Pretty To Stitch

Isn't this a gorgeous little design, and so appropriate for the season of giving thanks?  I think I might have to make room in my stitching rotation for this one.

"Queen of Harvest" by With Thy Needle and Thread

Friday, September 26, 2014

Laurie's Book Review--"Orphan Train"

I have some really great friends.  We don't see each other in person very much anymore, just on special occasions like class reunions, the county fair, things that don't happen on a daily, weekly, or even monthly basis.  We do keep up with each other on Facebook and other forms of social media, and always are there for one another whatever the need.  Recently, that need was suggestions of good books to read while a friend recuperated from a surgical procedure.

Another friend, a middle school media specialist, recommended the book "Orphan Train", by the author Christina Baker Kline.  Many more friends jumped into the conversation praising the book and what a mesmerizing, life changing, emotional experience it was.

About a month ago now, I came into possession of an Android tablet.  Since then, I have been trying out all the bells and whistles and becoming more familiar with the technology, including the Kindle app.  I got into the app and downloaded "Orphan Train" as my maiden voyage into the world of reading books online.

I was not disappointed.  I was stunned, emotional, changed.



I have been trying for a week to put words into sentences to describe what the book was about.  I even talked to myself out loud the other day in the shower, trying to compose a review for my blog.  I think the main gist of the story is lost and found family and just what the meaning of all that is.  The main character--Meevh, a nine-year old new immigrant from Ireland, is orphaned in a tenement fire and comes under the custody of the Children's Aid Society.  She is placed on an orphan train to the Midwest (the year is 1929) in hopes that she would be selected by a family for adoption or worse (i.e. indentured servitude in a lot of cases).  As a nine year-old, she is already considered too old to adopt for a family, so she undergoes a lot of miserable, terrifying experiences before the light of good fortune shines on her and a future begins to take shape.

The co-main character (the year is 2011) is Molly, a 17 year-old foster child who is about to age out of the system with no plans or prospects.  Her father is dead and her mother is an addict, and she doesn't really know if she is alive or not.  She has to perform community service in order to avoid jail time for the theft of a book from the library, and is matched up with an elderly lady who lives alone in a big mansion and needs help "cleaning" the boxes in her attic.

2+2=4, and Molly is matched with Meevh/Dorothy, who is now Vivian Daly.  The story follows both characters and their experiences through their formative years.  As they start to "clean" by going through each of the boxes, one at a time, the stories of both characters begin to weave themselves. Meevh/Dorothy/Vivian's life is a hard, horrible life full of loss, and in the nick of time--at thirteen years old--she finds a family.  But so many people leave her during the story--the baby she is forced to care for on the ride out west, the first family to pick her from the lineup, the horrible backwoods people, the teacher and boarding house owner who rescue her from the horrible backwoods people.  She meets again and marries a young man she met on the initial train ride out west, only to lose him in action in WWII.  She gives birth to their child a few months later, and decides to give the baby girl up for adoption.  She finds out that her youngest sibling did not die in the tenement fire, but lived and was adopted by the same neighbors who turned her over to the Children's Aid Society.

Molly, in turn, learns a lot about herself on this journey.  She is a kindred spirit to Vivian in the similarities of their lives, and gains some perspective on her life and where she needs to take it.  Vivian is comfortable enough with Molly to begin to share, to unravel all the issues of her past, and it helps Molly unravel hers as well.

Meevh's/Dorothy's/Vivian's life is a cycle of love and loss that would have done me in long before my time.  She developed an attitude of spunk and hardness that helped her survive her situation.  Although I was completely worn out emotionally by the time I reached the last page of this book, I know I will be forever changed for the better by having read it.  And I am so thankful for having friends with incredibly good taste in books.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Recipe--Polynesian Pull-Aparts

If you like to read recipes as much as I do, you are very well aware that monkey bread is enjoying a huge surge in popularity right now in the culinary world.  Monkey bread not only comes in the original cinnamon and sugar variety, but in all sweet shapes and savory varieties as well.

Pillsbury is releasing a lot of the 2014 Pillsbury Bake-Off winning recipes on Pinterest and other forms of social media right now, and I came across this pin for Polynesian Pull-Aparts.  Yummers!  Going to have to try this one very soon for a breakfast treat!

POLYNESIAN PULL-APARTS

1 1/4 C sugar
3 T finely chopped macadamia nuts
1 can Pillsbury Grands! homestyle southern biscuits (8 total biscuits in can)
1/3 C butter, softened
3 oz cream cheese, softened (from 8 oz pkg)
1-2 T pineapple juice
1/2 teaspoon coconut extract

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray 10" fluted tube pan with no-stick cooking spray.  In 9" pie plate, mix 1 C of the sugar and the macadamia nuts; set aside.

Separate dough into 8 biscuits. Cut each biscuit in half.  Dip both sides of biscuit halves into melted butter; roll in sugar mixture to coat all sides. Place cut sides up in bottom of fluted tube pan.  sprinkle any remaining sugar mixture over biscuit halves.

Bake 25-35 minutes or until light golden brown.  Cool 5 minutes; turn ring upside down onto serving plate; cool an additional 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in small bowl, beat cream cheese and remaining 1/4 C sugar with electric mixer on medium speed 30-45 seconds or until smooth.  Beat in 1 T of the pineapple juice, 1 t at a time, until thin enough to drizzle.  Drizzle over hot pull-apart ring; serve warm.

Giving credit where credit is due--this recipe is the creative of Jane McMillen of Winter Garden, FL.

Enjoy!

Recipe--Easy Veggie Beef Slow Cooker Soup

Although I have not tried this recipe yet, I am going to very soon.  It's full of lots of things I love to eat, and it's a very simple crockpot recipe, so no excuses.

I found this recipe on a great website called Recipes That Crock (also a Facebook page), www.recipesthatcrock.com.  Talk about mouthwatering!  And practical as well, since the ingredients are those easily found in your pantry already or at the grocery store.  There's NOTHING like good old down home cookin'!

EASY VEGGIE BEEF SLOW COOKER SOUP

1 lb stew beef, cubed
1 T oil
4 potatoes, peeled and diced (use 5 red potatoes, skin on and quartered)
16 oz pkg frozen peas
16 oz pkg frozen corn
16 oz pkg baby carrots
2-12 oz jars beef gravy
2-15 oz cans tomato sauce (use Red Gold!)
salt and pepper to taste
Optional:  1 C tomato juice (again, use Red Gold!) if a more soupy consistency is desired.

Brown beef in oil in a skillet over medium heat; drain.  Add potatoes to skillet, cooking them until softened.  Put the beef and potatoes into a slow cooker.  Add all remaining ingredients.  Cover and cook on low for 8 hours or until tender, stirring occasionally.

Prep time:  20 mins
Cook time:  8 hours

As always--enjoy!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Autumn Is a Perfect Time for Stitching

Wow, this fall fever stuff I have is REALLY bad.  I have a crazy nesting instinct going on right now.  I want to lay food in for the winter and drag out some cozy blankets. I'm collecting crock pot recipes like a crazy woman and shopping sales for replacement batteries for all the flashlights should a power failure happen on a cranky Autumn day.

"Autumn Jumble " by The Drawn Thread

"Cinnamon Stars" by Plum Street Samplers

"Harvest Time" by The Prairie Schooler

And--of course--there's the needlework to be done.  This is the time of year I look at all the beautiful counted cross stitch designs available on the market and try to convince myself I really, REALLY don't need another one.  But you need a stash to work on during the winter, you know...

Here are a few designs I found now and through the years that bring that autumnal warmth to my heart.  Although I haven't worked any of them into my stitching rotation yet, I hope you enjoy looking at them as much as I have!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Fall Is Coming, and I Can't Wait

I have caught a case of fall fever BAD this year.  I don't know exactly why, because beautiful Autumn, the season of harvest and thanks and gathering, is the gateway to capricious Winter. Yes, Winter gives us the season of joy and togetherness and the introduction to a New Year, but it can also give us a foot of snow in an hour, horrendous wind and chill factors, and -40 degree real temps for a week.

I am ready, so so ready, for fall to begin.  College football on Saturday afternoons, apple cider at the local orchard just waiting to be chilled and consumed, fall festivals and sightseeing trips.  The colors and brilliance of turning leaves, the smells of fire and smoke and food. Indian summer one day, gloomy rain the next.  Watching the combines in the far-off distance bringing in the food supply for a grateful nation.  Bringing out the chunky sweaters and finding that heavy blanket for the bed.


My ex-husband used to hate fall, which is funny for a "farmer" since that is a make-or-break time of the year for many involved in agriculture.  He always was complaining that fall was the season of death.  Thinking about that now, maybe he was a little bit correct; to everything there is a season and all that.  But Autumn, to my mind, brings so much more to our lives and our world than that. It is the grand, colorful, glorious payoff for living and believing in the other three seasons.

Winter, Spring, Summer...they all have their positives and negatives, and I do look forward to each arriving in its turn.  But give me a crisp, clear fall day anytime and the sense of coziness, of warmth, of love, of accomplishment for seasons of hard work that it brings.  The so-called season of death is MY season of revitalization and rejuvenation.



Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Small Acts of Kindness Are Never Forgotten

A couple of nights ago, I was in my backyard near the alley, where I had planted a bed full of "highway" lilies.  I call them "highway" lilies because they are the orange lilies with a very thin outline of yellow that you see growing in masses along country roads and highways.  I was fortunate enough to get my hands on some a few years ago and they flourished to the point where I needed to transplant; therefore, the flower bed behind the garage became a new home for the majority of them.

As I was weeding the bed, a small girl popped out from between two houses across the alley from me.  I smiled at her and she smiled right back and pronounced, "Hi, my Mom is Vanessa".  Not immediately being able to recall anyone nearby named Vanessa, I asked "Who is Vanessa?".  She promptly answered "she's my Mom". From the mouths of babes, right?

Anyway, as I was talking and weeding, my shoulder brushed against one of the blooms, and it fell off.  I reached down to pick it up and immediately asked the little girl if she would like to have it.  She absolutely beamed, shaking her head up and down and saying "Yes!".

In that absolute moment, I flashbacked (or is it flashed back?) to my childhood.  I grew up in the small town of Mulberry, Indiana.  Mulberry is the kind of place where you hopped on your bike and rode for what seemed like hours and you were never in stranger danger of any kind.  When the streetlights came on, that's when you went home--you know, that kind of thing.

One summer night, I packed up my sisters' Fisher-Price camera--the one with the "flashbulb" that rotated whenever you snapped the "shutter"--and set off on my last bike ride of the day.  Riding by a small ranch-style house on the street behind where I lived, I noticed these giant, beautiful flowers that were nothing like anything I had ever seen before.  So, being little and being a dork, I got off my bike and walked up to the flowers and started snapping away with the Fisher-Price camera.

Looking back now, I realize that the giant flowers were in front of the living room picture window of the house.  The owners most likely saw everything; me getting off the bike, walking through the front yard, and shooting away with the toy camera.  What a hoot that must have been for them!

Anyway, the lady of the house came out and asked me if I would like to have one of those blooms to take home.  Of course I said yes, and she cut one off and gave it to me.  Thinking back, I believe that the flower was a hibiscus because I remember it being showy and as big as a dinner plate.  I know I thanked the lady, because that's what we were taught to do when someone did something nice for us.  I then hopped back onto my bike and rode home, carrying that flower like it was a piece of gold from Fort Knox.

Giving that flower to that little girl let me play a part that I had always wanted to play ever since that lady gave me the bloom to take home.  I was able to give a little bit of kindness to a young girl, who hopefully will pass that kindness along to another young child at some point in her life.  Just the thought makes me smile and makes me warm all over.  Thank goodness that memory resurfaced when it did. The old adage is true; small acts of kindness are never forgotten.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Pardon This Interruption...

Please indulge me.  I just LOVE baby lambs!

Hate Speech


You all know me by now, and know that I am not a person who even occasionally spouts off my political beliefs to anyone who will or will not listen. But this incident really, REALLY bothers me.

The photo above shows a letter received by Julie Boonstra, who is a cancer patient in Michigan whose out-of-pocket medical expenses for her cancer-fighting drugs will increase greatly under her Obamacare health plan.

Ms. Boonstra is a schoolteacher, and has had to sell her home and end her career in order to afford to continue her fight for her life against this terrible disease.

The plight of Julie Boonstra is a major issue in the current Michigan senatorial race.  Depending on whom you read and/or believe, Ms. Boonstra is either a right-wing plant with  made-up symptoms controlled by conservative puppetmasters or an example for American citizens who will be up the famous creek without a paddle as Obamacare takes over the national healthcare system.

I'm not really concerned with the political X's and O's here.  What I am concerned with is that evidently it is considered acceptable and a good idea by our society to send hateful, despicable garbage such as this to a person that is suffering.  When did we degrade to this point?

"Hope cancer kills you soon". 

This is something I would not wish on my very worst enemy.  Cancer kills many, many people in this world on an hourly basis, and the pain and suffering of the patients and their loved ones is a pain that no one should have to endure--but many do it daily and willingly because it is their Dad, Mom, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, grandparent, friend--you name it--whose life is on the line.

Not to sound like a geezer (although I think I am officially one on account of my age), but if I would have dared write something like this and mailed it to a person, I would have been damn near ostracized by my family and friends, and that shame and embarrassment would have been enough to change my way of thinking.  Thank God my parents instilled a strong sense of right vs. wrong in my sisters and me.

Things like this make me worry for the human condition.  Will our little children of today grow up to be monsters like the person who wrote and mailed this letter?  Will our society eventually bottom out and morality re-bloom like the forest after a fire?  Or will we just further devolve into animalistic savages with no care for the life of others? For OUR sakes, I certainly hope love wins.

Here is a link to an interesting article, "The War on Julie Boonstra", from the National Review (disclosure:  a right-leaning publication)

The War on Julie Boonstra

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Tea Time In The Garden

It's coming, it really is.  Spring will be here SOMEDAY...


"Tea Time In The Garden" by Susan Wheeler/Holly Pond Hill

Life Is Good

Wow, life sure has a way of throwing you surprises when you least expect it.  In this case, a very, very good surprise.

"There is a moment in time where the world goes quiet...it is that place where dreams, hopes and more come crashing together..."

Thursday, March 6, 2014

My New Favorite Song For Right Now

"Let It Go" by Jimmy Fallon, Idina Menzel, and The Roots


Here I stand
And here I'll stay
Let the storm rage on
The cold never bothered me anyway

--"Let It Go", song from the movie "Frozen" (2014)

I posted these lyrics on my Facebook page a few days ago, and a friend messaged me back asking if I had lost my mind (an obvious reference to the harsh winter we are living through in the Midwest this year).  I answered back "I like the words".  And I do; I really, really do.  I don't think they're really about winter so much as any battle or obstacle one faces in the course of their life.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

What We Have Here...

Why is it so hard for some people to communicate?

If you're a good, true friend, you understand and empathize with a person's highs and lows, joys and sorrows, victories and defeats.  Just being there is great support to a person you cherish as an important part of your life.

But nothing positive is going to happen if one of the people in the relationship is unwilling to communicate.  NOTHING.

Communication can be verbal or nonverbal.  Shutting out people may be a coping mechanism, but it is nothing but destructive for both parties.  At least answer a question if you are asked.  It can be a simple one-word answer or a certain "look", but ANSWER.  Damn, it's really not that hard.

If you are trying to punish or drive away the other by not communicating, then maybe you aren't really good friend material after all.  Think about that for a while.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Thank Goodness For Nice Guys With Big Muscles

Well, we got our expected snow dump last night (mine looks to be about 8" right now).  And, as expected, my work didn't close, but they delayed opening till 10:00 AM.  Our schools are closed, but we are considered to be "essential" personnel, so we have to go to work on snow days.

I didn't take advantage of the 2.5 hour delay today to shovel snow; instead, I tucked my tired carcass back into my warm bed and caught a few more zzz's.  When I went out to clean off the car and start it, I realized what an adventure driving to work today was going to be when I looked at my pant legs and saw snow crusted 3/4th of the way up my calves.  Not funny.

Pulled away from the curb.  Good so far.  Driving slowly, which is the best you can do in a passenger car in this kind of snow.  Got to the end of my street.  STUCK.  Hopelessly, deeply stuck.  I took a  deep breath, closed my eyes for a quick "please help me, God", and started the routine of reverse-drive to try and get out of the snow quagmire.  Nothing.  Nothing at all except more stuck.

Along comes a big black SUV, slowing down.  Out gets a friendly, strapping young guy, who came straight to my car door and said "I'll help you".  He pushed on the back bumper and I kept doing the reverse-drive maneuver.  Eventually (probably about ten minutes total but it seemed like forever), my little engine that could popped itself around the corner and into the street upon which I was trying so unsuccessfully to turn.

His name is Don Suto.  He's from Lafayette.  He had just dropped his wife off at Wabash Center, which is a facility for the developmentally disabled that is located at the end of my street as well.  For once, I had good timing and good luck, as Don was there when I needed help and, most importantly, he stopped to help me.

Immediately, I realized that I had absolutely NO cash on hand to pay Don a little thank you gift.  He just smiled and said, "I wanted to help you".  Five words that so many people need to hear and, today, I heard them when I needed them the most.

Angels come in all shapes and sizes.  today, mine wore Carhartt bibs and a friendly smile.  Thank goodness for nice guys with big muscles.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Winter

Winter can be a pain, especially when it snows and turns frigid as much as it has here in Indiana this season.  But it still can be beautiful--and that's why I am sharing this lovely Charles Wysocki print, "Winter", with all of you.

"Winter" by Charles Wysocki

And To Go With That Soup, May I Recommend...

Larry the Cable Guy Beer Bread Mix

Yep, that's right.  Larry the Cable Guy Beer Bread mix.  The "Git 'er Done" guy has expanded his talents into the world of food. 

I've just recently discovered just how good beer bread is with just about any hot meal.  And, when I was trying out different types of beer bread, the one that was most often recommended to me was the mix produced and sold by Tastefully Simple, a home sales company.

Well, while keeping the Tastefully Simple mix tucked into my memory, I was at a Big R store.  Big R is a farm and home store in the Midwest (based in Watseka, IL, but there is one in Crawfordsville, IN, about 30 minutes south of my home) that has a really nice food department for their size, and it's always a good idea to browse their shelves.  One day, I came upon Larry the Cable Guy mixes on special for 99 cents apiece.  Yes, you read it right; 99 cents apiece.  That was too good of a bargain, so I picked up a couple, then begged a couple of beers off my Dad (I don't drink beer and he does, but only in the summertime), and headed to my kitchen for the great experiment.

Much to my surprise, the bread was excellent!  Very moist and that sweet flavor of the yeast from the beer was evident but not overwhelming.  Plus, the loaf baked to a nice size.  I've still not tried the Tastefully Simple bread, but given the opportunity, I would pick this one up every time.

Try it out sometime and see what you think.  Hey, if it saves you money and tastes great, there's no reason not to!

Recipe--Slow-Cooker Smoky Ham and Navy Bean Stew

If you live the in the Midwest during the winter of 2013-2014, you know that the snow and cold have been relentless.  We have mild winters for the most part the past few years, so I think we were due for a whopper--and we certainly have gotten it! 

As a matter of fact, today--February 4--all the weather forecasts are predicting anywhere from 6"-12" of snow for my part of Indiana.  When I hear a forecast like that, one of the first things that enters my mind is how goooooood a pot of homemade soup would be.  Searching for some new soups to add to my "repertoire", I found this recipe from Pillsbury that I may have to try yet this week; after all, another storm is headed our way for the weekend.

SLOW-COOKER SMOKY HAM AND NAVY BEAN STEW

1 lb. cooked ham, cut into 1/2" cubes (3 C)
1 C dried navy beans, sorted and rinsed
Slow-Cooker Smoky Ham and Navy Bean Stew
2 medium stalks celery, sliced (1 C)
1 small onion, chopped (1/4 C)
2 medium carrots, sliced (1 C)
2 C water
1/4 t dried thyme leaves
1/4 t liquid smoke
1/4 C chopped fresh parsley

In 3 1/2- to 4-quart slow cooker, mix all ingredients except parsley.  Cover; cook on low heat setting 10 to 12 hours or until beans are tender.  Stir in parsley before serving.

Makes: 4 servings