Fort Wayne Festival of Trees

I love my town. It’s small enough not to be overwhelming, yet big enough to have lots of wonderful events. Like this one — the Embassy Festival of Trees. It’s held at the downtown historic Embassy Theater. Various businesses decorate trees, which fill the lobby at Christmas time. How beautiful it is!

Embassy Festival of Trees

I enjoyed wandering the area, just taking photos and enjoying all the lights and decor. I remember visiting the Festival of Trees with the girls when they were little, pointing out things to them. It was fun then, and it’s fun now as well, to visit and have the opportunity to contemplate …

Nutcrackers Festival of Trees

There was even a big collection of Nutcrackers. Beautiful and fun!


My real reason for visiting was to see a piano student perform in a “Frozen” themed ballet program. I love watching my “piano kids” involved in their various activities, and it’s fun to realize that even though my own kids are growing up, there will always be kids out there to teach and to enjoy. Throughout the festival, musical groups perform on the Embassy stage. You can watch dance, listen to an orchestra or a choir, or even watch gymnastics.

Throughout the trees, friendly and helpful Embassy volunteers were stationed to greet visitors and answer questions.

If you live anywhere near Fort Wayne, plan to visit the festival. It’s almost over for this year — its 30th year — but it happens annually. Do you have a similar Christmas tradition in your town? I’d love to hear about it.

Merry Christmas!


VeggieTales in the house

You know I am a VeggieTales fan; ever since my girls were little, I have appreciated the wit and humor of these friendly vegetables. Now, there are more opportunities for you and your kids to experience a little “vegetable soup” of creativity, thanks to Netflix.

Yes, on Netflix: the new VeggieTales In The House series can be viewed exclusively on Netflix, and it began November 26. The 22-minute episodes feature values-laden fare that you’re used to watching from the fun veggies — “Bob and Larry Getting Angry” shows Bob and Larry staying up all night being angry at each other, after hearing the Scripture about not letting the sun go down on their anger. “Trading Places” features Bob and Jimmy tiring of their roommates and deciding to swap with friends — with surprising results. And so on.

As you can see from the graphic above, the veggies have a new, refreshed appearance as DreamWorks Animation joins the team to add a creative twist.

But don’t worry,  some things never change. Each episode ends with the famous closing phrase that has been part of VeggieTales shows from the beginning: God made you special, and He loves you very much.

If you want a little holiday fun for the kids, pick up the phone and dial toll-free number 1-844-283-4443 (that’s 1-844-2VEGGIES). Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber are available 24 hours a day, telling jokes, singing songs, sharing Scripture, and even providing recipe tips.

More resources:

VeggieTales Recipes

Bob the Tomato Coloring Page

Laura Coloring Page

So, if you’re thinking, But I don’t have Netflix! — that is no excuse. Propeller Consulting is offering a wonderful prize to one of you: a 3-month Netflix gift card so that you can watch (and if you already have Netflix, the gift card can be used to add to your account).

Enter using the rafflecopter form below by December 9; I’ll choose a random winner December 10.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway. Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation. I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post.

 Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway. If you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification.”

Menu Plan Monday


Happy Menu Plan Monday, everyone. How was your Thanksgiving? Ours was nice; we were at relatives’ and my sister even took a family photo:


So now the Christmas season begins in earnest. It is kind of nice because we celebrated over Thanksgiving with part of the family, so that forced me to have a large part of my gifting already done. I am mostly done with the rest as well. I don’t like going to malls at all in December, and avoid them if I can. I like to finish early and just enjoy the season as peacefully as I can. How about you?

Here is the menu for the week:

Monday: Pan Fried Matcha Chicken, probably with homemade noodles (side note –this is mainly because I have some of the matcha dredging stuff left over from the first time I made this recipe, several months ago)

Tuesday: Stuffed pasta shells — one of the girls requested these, and I haven’t made them in a long time.

Wednesday: Wendy’s Chili served over spaghetti — which I call Cincinnati Chili

Thursday: Crockpot Mexican Chicken Tacos — found on Pinterest; looks good and easy.

Friday: Chickpeas With Spinach — new recipe; we’ll see who all is brave enough to try it.

2 medium onions, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cups cooked chickpeas
1 1/2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes ( or same amount, tinned)
red pepper flakes ( to taste)
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon oregano
1 (10 ounce) packages frozen spinach, chopped and defrosted
1 -2 lemon, juice of ( to taste)

In a large saucepan, over medium heat, saute the onions and garlic in the olive oil until the onions are tender.
Add the chickpeas, tomatoes, pepper flakes (to suit your taste), and oregano,and paprika.
Cover and simmer for about 18 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add spinach and cook about 7 minutes longer, or until spinach is cooked.
Add the lemon juice (I usually like to add the juice of about 1 1/2 lemons. Add the juice of 1 lemon, taste and adjust to your own, personal taste), salt and pepper.

What is on your menu plan this week? More menu planning ideas at OrgJunkie‘s.

Sure, all the current attention is focused on Prince William & Kate Middleton. But amid all the hoopla over Kate, the royal bride of the 21st century, let’s not forget the royal bride of the 20th – Princess Diana.


The wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana was a huge media event, with over 750 million viewers worldwide. And a big part of the wedding’s attraction was the furor of excitement over Princess Diana’s wedding dress.

Let’s dust off the archival tapes to remember some fascinating facts about that gorgeous gown.

The 25-Foot Train

The train on Diana’s gown was a famous 25 feet in length – the longest in royal history. London designers David and Elizabeth Emanuel designed the train with the wedding venue in mind: St. Paul’s Cathedral, a church much larger than Westminster Abbey, where William and Kate will tie the knot.


Few who watched the wedding will forget the spectacle of Diana emerging at St. Paul’s from her carriage, looking like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis.


The Backup Dress

The Emanuels created an extra, “backup” wedding dress identical to the one Diana actually wore. Diana never tried the extra dress on, and its details were never completed, but it was created in case of an emergency situation on the wedding day. The British royals are always prepared, you know.


A Slew of Silk

The Emanuels wanted to create Diana’s wedding dress from British silk, but the entire colony of silkworms could not meet the demand. They ended up importing a 40 meter roll of silk needed to create the fairytale gown, which they glammed up with 10,000 sequins and poufed out with 100 meters of net for an underskirt.


Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue

Diana’s wedding dress kept with tradition, including something old (antique lace), something new (bits of British silk, specially spun for the dress at a farm in Dorset), something borrowed (her Spencer family tiara), and something blue (a small blue bow sewn into the waistband of the gown). A tiny, 18-karat gold and diamond horseshoe was sewn into the dress for luck as well – too bad it didn’t work.


The Arrival

Diana arrived at St. Paul’s in a glass coach, and getting her into the coach proved quite a trick. It took staff 30 minutes to fit Diana, her huge dress and train, and her father all into the coach for their trip to the church. The train was folded onto her lap.


She emerged with the dress quite wrinkled, but a crew of helpers spritzed and fluffed it for its famous trip down the aisle.


Did you watch the royal wedding of Charles and Diana? What are your memories of the event?

You may also enjoy:

Childhood Memories Friday: Princess Diana Dresses

Childhood Memories Friday: A Letter From Princess Diana

Childhood Memories Friday: The Wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana


November 2014 Book Chat

book chat

Let’s jump right into November’s book reviews:


“Saving CeeCee Honeycutt” is the tale of, well, CeeCee Honeycutt. She’s 12, and her life is not great. She lives with her largely absent dad and her mentally nuts mom, who ends up dying when she (accidentally? no one knows) runs into the path of an oncoming truck, all the while caught up in the idea that she’s just been crowned a pageant queen. I’m not saying I wanted to skip through life in a rosy blur from one Disney experience to the next, says CeeCee, all I longed for was to know one whole happy day.

CeeCee finds that day when her great aunt Tootie offers to take her in, and here the story really begins. CeeCee moves from Ohio to Savannah, Georgia, where she comes to love her great aunt, her housekeeper Oletta (lots of “The Help” vibes here), and various other neighbors and friends with colorful personalities — all women.

The author does a great job of immersing the reader in southern charm and hospitality, and I enjoyed this. The story itself was just so-so to me; it started well but then seemed to drag.



My eighth grader read this book from the school library, and recommended it to me. I always enjoy reading books my girls enjoy, as it helps give me insight into their inner lives. I’d recently recommended a book to her, and she didn’t like it — hmmmm …. observations made, more learned :)

Anyway, “Runaway” to Wendelin Van Draanen is not a “light” book. It’s about Holly, a homeless 12-year-old (yeah, I know. The beginning of this month was pretty pitiful-tween heavy with my reading!).

“It’s a cold, hard, cruel fact that my mother loved heroin more than she loved me,” Holly writes. After her mom’s death, Holly bounces from one bad foster home to another until she’s tired of the whole scene and runs away. The way she makes her way through the world is amazing — I kept forgetting she was only 12. I wonder if there are many kids that young truly on their own and homeless? I hope not.

Anyway, Holly is inspired by a teacher to journal, and it’s through her journaling that we learn her story. We follow her from one bad situation to the next, until finally things begin looking up.

Harsh situation, but well-written.




If you live or work with someone affected by Asperger’s Syndrome, the Oasis Guide to Asperger Syndrome, Revised 3rd Edition, is a must-read. Often these big reference-type books are wordy and, frankly, not very interesting to read through. This was an exception — it’s written by a woman whose son has AS, and she writes in a very readable way. In fact, reading it kind of felt like sitting down and having a conversation with an educated friend. Very nice tone! The book covers every aspect of AS, from symptoms to diagnosis to everyday living strategies to so much more. I highly, highly recommend it. It’s written mainly for parents of children with the condition, but the information is helpful for understanding anyone affected by AS.

Thanks to Blogging for Books for a review copy.



My main reading this month has been Gone With the Wind, or I should really say beginning Gone With the Wind. It’s over 900 pages, and even that is an understatement, because the copy I got from the library has lots of print on the pages (I photographed it to show that the book even came with its own  heavy-duty sliding case — now that’s a big book!).

I’m about 300 pages in, and I am being pulled in, I must admit. I don’t know if it’s the writing, or just the length of the book, but Margaret Mitchell does create characters that stick with the reader. The reading is easy, and I find myself being drawn into the South and imagining how Southerners must have felt during the Civil War. The whole thing is horribly politically-incorrect today, with its remarks about the slaves and the black race in general, but it’s a look into another time.

I saw the movie as a child, and my sole remembrance of that is a girl named Bonnie being hurt or killed while riding a horse. No Bonnie has surfaced yet, though, so I’ll keep reading. Anyone else out there who has never read GWTW? Then I won’t feel so bad :)

Menu Plan Monday


Hi everyone, and welcome to the Thanksgiving edition of menu plan Monday! We will be visiting this week and so I have less cooking to do than usual, which is always a welcome treat. So, here is the abbreviated menu plan:

Monday: Cheeseburger Wraps -- new recipe; don’t they look delicious? Probably baked potato fries as well.

Tuesday: Split Pea Soup — another new recipe

This makes a very thick vegetarian split pea soup. To make it thinner, add more water. Depending on the density of split peas, it may take a while for the vegetables and peas to soften, but you can’t really overcook this soup; just stir occasionally, and add water if it gets too dry. Seasonings can be altered to taste.

Tastes even better reheated.

Original recipe makes 10 or more servings

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 onion, chopped

1 bay leaf

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups dried split peas

1/2 cup barley

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

7 1/2 cups water (thick) (11.5 cups normal)

3 carrots, chopped

3 stalks celery, chopped

3 potatoes, diced

1/2 cup chopped parsley

1/2 teaspoon dried basil

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper


1. In a large pot over medium high heat, saute the oil, onion, bay leaf and garlic for 5 minutes, or until onions are translucent. Add the peas, barley, salt and water.

Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

2. Add the carrots, celery, potatoes, parsley, basil, thyme and ground black pepper. Simmer for another hour, or until the peas and vegetables are tender.

(I added 4 more cups of water, which turned out to be PERFECT, so I’d definitely recommend using a total of 11 1/2 cups water for anyone making this soup!)

*I may try making this in the crockpot as it’s a busy piano night … probably bread in the bread machine too.

When we are back later in the week, I may make Cincinnati Chili if needed (Wendy’s Chili served over spaghetti)

What is on your menu plan this week? More menu planning ideas at OrgJunkie‘s.

Happy Thanksgiving!! I am thankful for each of you who stops by to read here.

Thanks to Hallmark for an ornament to review, and for providing the giveaway ornament. No compensation was received, and all opinions are my own.
Childhood Memories Friday

Christmas — I just love it! As a child, I remember sitting in the back seat of the car, marveling at the lights on houses as we drove around town, just looking at Christmas lights. It was magical. I’ve always loved Christmas music, and it surprises me when I hear people complain about it playing in stores. I could listen to it year-round. On the day after Christmas when I was 5, Mom noted me saying, “Christmas is over — but there’ll be another one!”


Christmas 1970

In this photo, 6-year-old me sits in my “car” with my beloved Santa. I’m at the drive-in, in case you can’t tell, and most likely I’m watching one of my favorite Christmas specials on TV: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Did you know that the Rudolph program is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year? Yep, and so am I! So perhaps it’s no wonder I’ve always loved that show, with its loveable misfits and catchy songs (“Have a Holly Jolly Christmas”). Even the villains turn out nice in the end (I’m looking at you, Abominable Snowman/Bumble!).


I was so excited to review Hallmark’s 50th Anniversary Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer ornament.

Hallmark Rudolph ornament
Yes, it’s Rudolph in all his adorableness, with Hermey on his back. There’s a “50 years” tag around Rudolph’s neck, and as expected, Hallmark provides another fun detail: Rudolph’s nose lights up when you press a button on his collar! (requires a battery, and three are included).

I love Hallmark Christmas ornaments, and I have more than a few. They’re always so well made, and cute, and the details provide that extra something that makes them special. They are truly keepsakes that you can enjoy now, and pass along to your kids and grandkids as well. Check out all of the 2014 Hallmark Ornament Collection — which is  your favorite?

Hallmark is generously providing an ornament from the 2014 collection to one of you! I can’t say that it will be Rudolph — the choice is up to Hallmark — but really, as you look through their catalog, you’ll see that any ornament from them would be a treat to receive. You can enter using the rafflecopter form below. Enter by November 29, and I’ll choose a random winner November 30.

Merry Christmas!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Hallmark would love to hear your #KeepsakeIt moments involving their ornaments. You can share your moments (and be eligible for great prizes as well) by entering Hallmark’s #KeepsakeIt Sweepstakes through 12/18.

Even before his or her birth, Prince William and Kate Middleton’s second royal baby is world famous. What will Baby Cambridge’s parents name the tot? While naming is a private decision, it’s a safe bet that “North,” “Apple,” or “Suri” won’t be making the cut. British royal family members are  a traditional lot — their first baby, after all, was named George. And while William and Kate are decidedly modern in their approach to royalty, they aren’t rebels. Here’s what you might expect in the way of baby names for the couple this time around:


While Kate was expecting Prince George, the world breathlessly wondered if the expected baby would be a girl, named in homage to William’s late mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, who died tragically in a Paris car accident in 1997. Most likely: no. Diana was a world-class media superstar, and it would be a heavy burden to give a child her name. Diana as a middle name (royals often have several)? Perhaps. Another option for a first or middle name to honor William’s mum is Frances, Diana’s middle name.


Philip would be a fitting name for a little Prince of Cambridge, and would honor William’s grandfather, current Queen Elizabeth’s husband, Prince Philip. By all accounts, Philip has done a royally impressive job supporting the Queen through 60 years of royal rule. He’s still going strong, despite some recent health problems, at 93. William and Kate could do worse than name a child in his honor. Philip would be a bit of a novelty as well; there’s never been a British monarch with the name.

source: gg.gov.au

gg.gov.au by Auspic/Commonwealth of Australia [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons


Alexandra has a bit of a modern feel but historic roots. It’s one of current Queen Elizabeth’s middle names, the name of one of William’s godmothers, and also the name of British King Edward VII’s wife. How does HRH Alex sound?


James is the current #1 odds name for a baby boy. It’s a nice, traditional name that would pair well with George — and Kate also has a brother named James.


“Charlotte’s Web” isn’t the inspiration here; no, Charlotte is the middle name of Kate’s sister, Pippa. It’s a popular name among the posh set of young adults that form William and Kate’s world. It’s also got royal roots: Charlotte was the wife of King George III, who reigned when the American colonies broke away from England.


It’s fun to speculate that the royal baby could be named Elizabeth, same as her great-grandmother.  Elizabeth is Kate’s middle name as well. The latest polls show Elizabeth as the #1 speculated choice for a girl’s name for the couple.

Why more girl names speculated on than boys? Perhaps because there are more likely girl names in the mix. During the past thousand years, only eight different names have been used by predominantly male British monarchs.

The Waiting Game

Once Baby Cambridge arrives, don’t expect the modern custom of gender and name being announced all at once. It’s traditional for royals to wait with naming. William’s parents, Prince Charles and Princess Diana, waited a week before announcing William’s name. William’s cousin, Princess Beatrice, didn’t have a name for two weeks. And Prince Charles himself wasn’t named for a month!

What name would you like to see chosen for the new baby? Are you predicting a girl or a boy?

You may also enjoy:

A Thank You Note from William and Kate
Fun Facts About William, Kate, and George in New Zealand and Australia Royal Tour

Thanks to Chronicle Books for a review copy of this book. No financial compensation was received. All opinions my own.


Our gift guide continues today with Chronicle Books — one of my favorite places to shop for books and gift items that are out of the ordinary.

I particularly love the Terrarium Notecards, and anything related to the world’s cutest dog, Boo.

But today, I wanted to show you a little book that is hilarious to me.

It’s both the funniest sad book and the saddest funny book you’ll ever read — All My Friends Are Dead.

Imagine the poor dinosaur on the front — all his friends are dead (yeah, yeah — he is too, but suspend rationality for a bit, m’kay?) Consider trees: all their friends are end tables. Or Big Foot — all his friends are hoaxes.


Yeah. I think we can all understand this poor guy’s dilemma.

I love the dry humor of this book, and I am giving a copy to a relative whose sense of humor it matches perfectly. I bet you know someone who’d enjoy the chuckle, as well.

If you just can’t get enough of the quirky humor, there’s a sequel: All My Friends Are Still Dead. And don’t forget the matching felt journal — yes, really.

What is your favorite gift to give the hard-to-buy-for person?


Menu Plan Monday


It’s been another busy week: one daughter’s marching band completed its final competition, finishing 8th in the nation — wow! What a journey this season has been. I was able to travel to one of the state’s universities with another daughter as she competed with her team in the state spell bowl. That was fun as well!

Indiana Spell Bowl

There she is, in the red shirt!

I think that things will quiet down a little now, but not for long, because soon the holidays will arrive.

Here’s the week’s menu plan:

Monday: Make your own pizza — I make dough, and each person makes his/her own pizza with toppings of choice.

Tuesday: Chicken Curry – this is similar to my recipe. We ate at the local Indian restaurant Sunday, which reminded me I haven’t made curry in a while.

Wednesday: Fish and mashed potatoes (just boxed frozen fish, nothing special — sorry. Homemade mashed potatoes, though)

Thursday: Chicken Pot Pie — a favorite

Friday: Baked Cream Cheese Spaghetti Casserole — new recipe. I may cut down on the amount of cream cheese, as I’m doubting that it will be too popular around these parts.

What is on your menu plan this week? More menu planning ideas at OrgJunkie‘s.