Monthly Archives: July 2015

Getting Organized - Email

Getting Organized ~ Email

I’m old enough to remember the days before email was even a word. In the mid 90’s I set up my first email account through AOL … like as in “You’ve Got Mail” (love that movie, btw). Remember the weird ringing tone as the dial up connection to the internet was made. It was fun sharing jokes and stories with family and friends. However, important things were still mailed through the Post Office … affectionately known as “snail mail”.

In today’s world, email has made snail mail practically obsolete … practically, but not totally. We all receive plenty of “junk mail” to attest to that. You can read about my tips about organizing paper clutter here.

These days, our electronic inboxes are overflowing with emails … some are from family & friends, some are business/school related, some are household related, but many, a great many, are advertisements.

I try to “organize” my email accounts monthly. I have a couple … personal and business.
Today, I’ll concentrate on my personal/household account. I’ve had the same email address for many years. That being said, I’m on many mailing lists that are no longer important to me. Here’s an example, as many of you know, I homeschooled my kids. My youngest graduated in 2011 … and I still receive emails from homeschool textbook companies 🙁 Instead of just deleting them, I unsubscribed so I won’t receive future emails from them. I also made adjustments to the frequency that I receive emails from companies that are still relevant to me but I don’t necessarily want to hear from on a daily basis. I also usually just delete all those forwarded jokes (sorry) … I just don’t have time to read them all, especially since I’ve probably seen many of them floating around on Facebook or Twitter.

I created separate folders and “filed” important emails that I may need to refer back to in the future. I have also created a new email address that I use strictly for signing up for free giveaways and following blogs, etc. I don’t have to check this daily, only when I have a little time for some leisurely reading. It is there when I need it and then my other email inbox doesn’t get clogged up so quickly 🙂

After my initial inbox clean up (which I admit, took awhile), I now delete and file stuff from my smartphone whenever I have a few minutes of downtime between clients and appointments.

Hopefully, I’ve inspired you to take a look at your inbox & get it more organized 🙂

Photo credit to SeanMacEntee

 

Book Review & Giveaway ~ The Road Home by Kathleen Shoop

NEW RELEASE….

Find your way home…

1891—Living separately for three years, fourteen-year-old twins, Katherine and Tommy Arthur, have done their best to make each boarding house feel like home. But unrest grows as they are driven to questionable actions just to survive. Meanwhile their desperate mother is confronted with breaking yet another promise to her children. Then a miracle descends. Hope rises on a cold, rainy night and changes everything. If Jeanie could just get word to Katherine and Tommy, she knows she can set their lives right again. Agitators, angels, and dangerous “saviors” illuminate the Arthurs’ unmatched determination and smarts.

1905—Though she tries to forget the awful years that hurt so much, the memories still haunt Katherine. Now, tearful mourners at her mother’s funeral force her to revisit a time in her life that both harmed and saved her in the most unexpected ways. Tommy grieves his mother’s passing as well. He too is thrust backward, compelled to rediscover the events in his life that shaped the man he has become. Will he commit to reconstructing his broken life? The Arthurs come to understand that forgiveness is the only way back to hope, the only way to find all that was good in the misfortune that transformed their lives forever.

My Thoughts:

The Road Home is the 2nd book in The Letter Series by Kathleen Shoop. Although it continues the story of the Arthur family we met in The Last Letter, it can easily be read as a standalone book as well.

I love reading historical fiction. Kathleen Shoop’s style of writing does a wonderful job of teaching her reader about the way things were during that time period while engaging us with a well told story. She does a great job bringing each character to life … you really feel like you know and care about them.

The story goes back and forth in time, from 1891 to 1905, and is told from each character’s viewpoint. The chapters from Katherine’s and Tommy’s point of view gave the background of all they endured while being boarded out. The chapters from Jeanie’s perspective tore at my “mother’s heart”. The chapters from 1905 began with Jeanie’s funeral and then went into the different ways that the family coped with the many pent up & pushed down feelings that each character dealt with.

Times were very hard on single mothers and their children back then … I’m so happy that conditions have improved (for the most part). Being a single parent is not easy, no matter what time period you are in.

5 STARS ~ I loved this book and can’t wait for the next one 🙂

Book available to buy from the following sites…

Amazon.com   Amazon.co.uk   Barnes and Noble   Kobo   iBooks

“Kathleen Shoop has woven a story that crosses over several years with events that define lives. Katherine and Tommy are two characters that will stand out in my mind for a long time. The way the story blends back and forth between the two time periods is seamless and enjoyable, slowly painting a whole picture for the reader to see. I have not read the first book in this series, but I honestly feel that this one stands alone beautifully. You will take a journey with these characters that will evoke emotions and entertain you. This is my favorite kind of historical fiction; emotional and fun at the same time. I would highly recommend this to anyone who loves a great book.”
Reviewed By Kathryn Bennett for Readers’ Favorite- 5 stars!

“I loved this riveting tale of hope and redemption. The Road Home comes to life with gorgeous imagery and a setting that eased me seamlessly and beautifully back and forth in time. Each character stood out, coaxing me into her story, making me want more. With the turn of every page there’s a revelation, something hidden or something wonderful and unexpected. The Road Home is a must-read for any book lover and a perfect follow-up to The Last Letter.”
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Melissa Foster

Letter Series Book 1 – The Last Letter

A Father’s Deceit
A Husband’s Betrayal
A Loved One’s Death
A Mother’s Choice
A Daughter’s Resentment
A Time to Forgive

For every daughter who thinks she knows her mother’s story…

Katherine wouldn’t have believed it if she hadn’t found the last letter…

Katherine Arthur’s dying mother arrives on her doorstep, forcing her to relive a past she wanted to forget. When Katherine was young, the Arthur family had been affluent city dwellers until shame sent them running for the prairie, into the unknown. Taking her family, including young Katherine, to live off the land was the last thing Jeanie Arthur had wanted, but she would do her best to make a go of it. For Jeanie’s husband Frank it had been a world of opportunity. Dreaming, lazy Frank. But, it was a society of uncertainty — a domain of natural disasters, temptation, hatred, even death.

Ten-year-old Katherine had loved her mother fiercely, put her trust in her completely, but when there was no other choice, and Jeanie resorted to extreme measures on the prairie to save her family, she tore Katherine’s world apart. Now, seventeen years later, Katherine has found the truth — she has discovered the last letter. After years of anger, can Katherine find it in her heart to understand why her mother made the decisions that changed them all? Can she forgive and finally begin to heal before it’s too late?

Book available to buy from…

Amazon.co.uk    Amazon.com    Barnes and Noble   Kobo   iBooks

About Kathleen Shoop

I have a PhD in Reading Education and have worked in schools for over twenty years. I work with teachers and their students in grades k-8 and am lucky to learn something new from them every time I walk through their doors. This experience was a huge help in writing LOVE AND OTHER SUBJECTS–a quirky, post-college coming of age story with a splash of fun romance.

My first novel, The Last Letter (2011 IPPY Gold Medal–Regional Fiction, Midwest, 2011 Indie Excellence Finalist Award for Historical Fiction and Regional Fiction, 2011 International Book Awards Finalist for Historical Fiction and Best New Fiction), was a fascinating trip through history, punctuated with fictional characters and events. The idea for the story grew from my great-great grandmother’s letters (see My Dear Frank for the complete set of letters!) written during the year of her engagement to Frank Arthur. The beautiful letters are the inspiration for the novel, the seed from which The Last Letter’s characters and their voices grew.

I’ve also written women’s fiction–LOVE AND OTHER SUBJECTS– and have written another historical fiction novel, AFTER THE FOG, set in 1948 in Donora, PA. AFTER THE FOG is also an award winning book–A finalist in the Eric Hoffer Book Awards, a silver IPPY and WINNER in the literary category of the National Indie Excellence Awards.

I adore writing historical fiction (The Letter series, After the Fog) but am having a blast writing romance like Home Again and Return to Love (Endless Love series) Thank you so much for the time you take to read.

Follow the author on the following sites…

Website   Facebook   Twitter   Pinterest   Google+   Goodreads   Amazon

Follow the tour

Photobucket I received this book to review through Beck Valley Books Book Tours, all the opinions above are 100% my own.

NOW FOR THE AUTHOR’S GIVEAWAY !!

 

 

Win $15 Amazon.com Giftcard – 3 Winners!!

 

Ending on Sunday 8th August at 11.59pm EST Open Worldwide

 

Enter Below & Good Luck !!

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Stuffed Shells Freezer Meal

Freezer Meal Ideas

I mentioned in last week’s blog, that I would share my ideas for having some meals in the freezer for those times when your schedule is super busy. You know, those crazy weeks when everything hits the fan all at once. If you try any of my ideas, the hardest thing you have to do is to remember to take it out of the freezer the day before 🙂

When my kids were young, I did a huge freezer cooking day with a friend of mine. It was the kind where you have a month’s worth of meals for your freezer when you are done. We did it over a weekend. Thankfully our husbands helped keep the kids entertained & occupied. We shopped on the first day. It was the one and only time I used a credit card for groceries. It costs a lot to buy ingredients for a months worth of meals, and I usually budget for 2 weeks at a time. We prepped and cooked everything on the second day. It was exhausting, expensive and my family ended up not liking at least half of the meals. I don’t have fond memories of that weekend …

Fast forward … that was then ~ this is now 🙂

With Pinterest becoming so popular in the last few years, I’ve read many (and I mean many) articles and blogs about freezer cooking. There are many different techniques out there, and I’m sure they are great. However, with my not-so-great experience back in the day, I have come up with my own plan that works best for me.

As I mentioned last week, I pretty much only cook for my husband and myself these days. Since we have no need for a whole 9×13 casserole, when I make the recipe, I divide it in half and use two 8×8 pans instead. I use aluminum pans from the dollar store … I cover it with foil and them put the pan in a ziplock freezer bag. I also put the cooking directions in the bag ( paper seems to freeze well 🙂 ) I then have a meal for dinner that night and one to put in the freezer for future use. Sometimes, I’ll double the recipe and have one 8×8 for dinner and the freeze the other 3 🙂

Disclaimer ~ I only make recipes we have tried and liked. I’ve learned that not everything turns out like the picture they show 🙂 I’ve also learned that not all recipes taste good after being frozen … it’s trial and error for me. It’s also easier on the budget doing it this way.

I have also recently starting using my crockpot more often. I confess, my crockpot used to only come out when I hosted a party and wanted to keep something warm on my buffet table. This past year, I have been trying various soup recipes I’ve found online. One of my favorite things to make in my crockpot is homemade chicken stock. I think it tastes so much better than the kind you get at the store. I try to always have a few quarts (mason jars) in my freezer.

I have tried several freezer recipes for the crockpot that I have found on Pinterest. You can check out some of the recipes (not all for the crockpot) I’ve pinned to try. We have liked all the ones I’ve made so far. They have been pretty similar in preparation. You chop everything and measure out all the ingredients, then store them in freezer ziplock storage bags. Write the cooking directions on the bag with a sharpie pen. They suggest laying them flat to freeze to allow for better storage space. Again, you take it out of the freezer the day before to thaw. Then you dump it all into the crockpot and go about your day. Dinner is ready when you are 🙂

I also make a double batches when I make cookies or quick breads. I bake them first. I use the same 8×8 pans or foil loaf pans … wrap them in foil, then store in a ziplock bag. Dessert when you want it or a last minute dish to bring to a potluck type gathering … arrange it on a pretty plate and you are good to go 🙂

So these are a few ideas that work for me … what ideas work for you?
If you want to save some time, Tracy Helps You can do the shopping for you … then you’ll have everything you need on hand for you freezer cooking day. Remember, we are only a phone call or email away 🙂

Meal Planning Calendar

Meal Planning Tips & Menu Ideas

 Generally when I plan my meals, I do it for two weeks at a time. Unfortunately (pretty much since starting my own small business, if I’m being honest), I haven’t been as consistent at meal planning as I once was. I have to figure out a way to make this part of my normal routine once again.

I’ve been researching different meal planning approaches on various blogs and on Pinterest. So far, I’ve determined that there are approximately a million different ideas on the topic … So I’ll make it a million and one by telling you my technique 🙂

My family has changed over the years. My kids have grown ~ one has moved into his own place and the other still lives at home, but isn’t home all that often (and hardly ever eats at home with us). So, I only make plans for me and the hubby 🙂

I’ve decided to make my new meal plan approach to cover a whole month. I print out a blank calendar page and write in the meal for each day. I save them in a binder, and hope to reuse them in the coming years. I usually write in pencil so we can switch things around if we’re not in the mood for what is on the schedule for that day. I try to switch with something in the same week, so I have all the ingredients on hand. Also, I usually only plan dinners on my meal plan.

My schedule (and I use the word loosely) with Tracy Helps You is quite erratic – some days I have multiple clients – some days one – some days none. Each day is different … and I love it, but it does keep me on my toes, so I definitely need a flexible schedule / plan 🙂 My husband works the early shift and is long gone before I even wake up, so I keep a variety of breakfast type foods on hand for fending for yourself. Since I’m only cooking for 2, we often have leftovers for lunches. I also try to always have sandwich fixins’ on hand.

My husband and I have some favorites that are on the menu every week … like Taco Tuesday 🙂 Then I rotate some tried and true staples like spaghetti & meatballs or pork chops with cinnamon apple slices. We go out to eat on date nights and, of course, there are a couple of pizza nights 🙂 Then I fill in the other days with new recipes to try from my Pinterest Board or meals from my freezer that have been prepared in advance. I’ll be talking about freezer meals in next week’s blog post – stayed tuned 🙂

My plan sort of blends my current technique with some ideas that have worked for others. I have taken different points from different sources and come up with a customized plan that fits the needs of my family.

I hope my plan “helps” you … you can use it as a “jumping off” point in customizing your own menu plan or use it “as is” whatever works best for you … it’s all cool 🙂

American Flag ~ 4th of July

American Flag Etiquette for the 4th of July

We are coming up on the 4th of July … it’s the perfect time to show your patriotism by flying the American flag.
I have great memories of being a Cub Scout leader when my son was younger. One of my favorite memories was of one den meeting where we were working on an achievement about honoring and respecting the American flag. I had gotten prior approval from the principal to use the flagpole in front of the school where we held our meetings. The janitor met us at the flagpole and showed us how to properly raise and lower the flag. We had just talked about flag etiquette guidelines and how it shouldn’t touch the ground. Each 1st grade boy was to get a turn either hoisting or lowering the flag. I divided the den up into teams of 2 and had the team with a particularly shy and reserved boy go first, knowing he would back out if left until the end. He was doing so well until he accidentally dropped it while trying to get it hooked onto the rope. Of course, one of the more mean spirited boys called him a rude name and the shy boy burst into tears …

Anyways …

Here are a couple of the main guidelines (nutshell version):
• Always hang the flag with the blue field of stars in the upper left hand corner – whether hanging vertically or horizontally
• The flag should only be displayed during daylight hours … unless it is illuminated, (like a spotlight shining on it)then it can be displayed in the dark
• The flag should be folded in a triangle for ceremonial purposes or to display on the mantle. It can be folded into a normal square shape for ordinary storage

The etiquette guidelines I’ve shared are very simple and basic. You can read the very detailed, official rules here.

Fly our flag proudly and always remember what a privilege it is to live in “the land of the free & the home of the brave” …
Have a Happy and Safe 4th of July !!