Monday, January 25, 2021

List: Ten species of birds that will visit feeders all Winter long.

My husband has not been happy with the amount of money that we've been dropping on our little bird friends.  While he's happy that it's keeping the kiddies and I entertained while on somewhat of a lockdown, he's ready to put the birds on a strict diet.  I've been preaching to him that we I have made a commitment to these birds and now I'm going to do everything to keep them happy for the rest of the my life.  His newest comeback to my preaching is utterly ridiculous.  He seems to think that all birds fly south and that none will visit the feeders in the Winter.  Well, he's obviously wrong.

I decided to squash this myth in the best way that I know how.  Here's a list of ten species of birds that will visit feeders all Winter long.  Furthermore, some of these species are only found at the feeders during the colder months.  Therefore, there will be no bird diets.  Sorry.. Well, sort of sorry, but not really..

birds that don't fly south for the winter

Ten birds that will visit feeders in the Winter.

1.  Tufted Titmouse
These adorable little guys can be found at the feeders all year long, but especially throughout the Winter.  They're often found visiting my suet or sunflower seed feeders and then quickly flying away to eat their treat!  As a double bonus, when I see a tufted titmouse I know that my favorite birdies, the chickadees, are nearby.

2.  Chickadee
In case you weren't paying attention above.. Chickadees are my favorite!  I love their spunky personalities and boldness.  These are one of the few birds that will actually grab a treat straight from your hand.  Chickadees can be found at the feeders no matter the season, but their an even greater treat on a dull, Winter day.

dark eyed junco nyjer seed feeder

3.  Dark Eyed Junco
These birds start to visit in the Fall.  They come from up north where it's really cold and visit us for the colder months.  Dark Eyed Juncos are one of the species of birds that will only visit my feeders during the Fall or Winter.  As pictured above, their feathers are a dark, charcoal gray with a bright white belly.  These birds like to feed on the ground and are very poofy.

4.  Cardinal
Cardinals are a regular at our feeders all year long.  They love themselves some black oil sunflower seeds.  While they're always present, they are an extra treat to see in the Winter.  I didn't realize how magnificent they were until I saw their bright red plumage against the white snow.

5.  Blue Jay
Blue jays are another species that will regularly frequent our feeders.  Many people aren't fans of blue jays, but I admire their courage and enjoy seeing them prevail over bully birds like Starlings and Common Grackles.

6.  American Goldfinch
These yellow birds are another one of my favorites.  They're shy birds.  While they'll come to feeders, I find that they prefer thistle or nyjer seed.  As long as we have our nyjer seed feeder up and filled, we're blessed with that yellow plumage all year long.  

Fun Fact - Their bright bold feathers get very dull for colder months.  Don't fret, because they'll brighten up again for the Summer.  You were worried, right?!

carolina wren in the snow

7.  Carolina Wren
These adorable little guys are around all year long, but will only visit the feeders during the Winter months.  Peep this guy fighting blizzard like conditions for a bite of frozen suet!  Since we rarely see them during the warmer months, I consider the Carolina Wren a Winter species for our feeders.

8.  Nuthatches
Our feeders are graced with the presence of nuthatches all year long.  While white breasted nuthatches are definitely more common at our feeders, I occasionally see red breasted nuthatches as well.  In fact, there's one red breasted nuthatch that will literally honk at me if I go outside and the sunflower seed feeder is empty.

9.  Red Bellied Woodpeckers
Red Bellied Woodpeckers are a staple at our feeders.  They're there all day and every day!  Despite them being so common, I never get tired of seeing them on the suet feeder.  In fact, I still alert the entire house including the dog of it's arrival almost every single time.  Hot, cold, rainy, snowy, or whatever, I can promise you that the red bellied woodpecker will make an appearance!

10.  White Throated Sparrow
Our feeders are always frequented by different types of sparrows, but it isn't until the colder months start that the white throated sparrow comes to visit.  This little guy is a lot plumper than it's cousin species and has very distinct facial markings.  Those markings almost make them look like a house sparrow wearing a very bad disguise!

These ten species are just some of the birds that will visit our bird sanctuary and feeders throughout the colder months.  Other species that will be present throughout the winter are House Finches, Purple Finches, Pine Siskins, House Sparrows, Song Sparrows, Mourning Doves, Downy Woodpeckers, Harry Woodpeckers, and Starlings.  There are countless birds and reasons to keep your feeders full all Winter long.

What birds do you see in the Winter?

Friday, January 22, 2021

Life: Friday Ramblings


Baby girl's got bragging rights because...
...after hours of studying and ridiculously super early morning extra help sessions, she turned her failing grades into a 92%!  Second grade has been especially hard for her, especially in mathematics.  This is just one topic that she couldn't grasp through virtual learning.  That meant she had to make up for lost lessons last year and this year, but she did it!!  Mommy's super proud of you and your hard work!  For the record, I knew she could do it all along.

Don't worry about...
...the rings under my princess's eye balls.  They're not from a lack of sleep.  They're called allergy shiners and she gets them periodically.  A few doses of allergy meds and those dark circles will magically disappear!

I'm literally laughing my butt off because...
...a very nosey woman that I can't freaking stand at all stuck her nose where it didn't belong AND ENDED UP IN THE NEWS.

I'm way too excited for...
...the owl safari tomorrow that the nature preserve near my house is hosting!  Remember when we went to the bat safari?  Turns out they have an owl safari for the Winter.  Who knew we had owls on Long Island, let alone this far west?!  I'm excited to see some so let's cross our fingers that next week I have some cool owl stories to share with you guys!

Circling back to...
...this post about my top ten favorite movies released in 2020.  Well, my husband insisted that I watch the movie Us (Wikipedia link).  For starters, he had the wrong year.  It was released in 2019.  Secondly, if I was to write a post about the top movies of 2019, I would label this as the worst one of them all!  I got even more frustrated when I tried to Google what in God's name the movie was about only to find out that it was a gigantic political metaphor.  I was disappointed because I'm a fan of the two lead characters, but, I'm sure they didn't write it!  Have you seen it?  If not, I recommend watching it just so you can relate to how awful it was!

Please join me in wishing The Viking...
...a very Happy Birthday!!!  Because of the pandemic, we won't be having a cake, but here's the post from last year (link) instead.  When this is all over, I'll owe him a double dose of cannoli cake!

 What are your Friday Ramblings?
Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Recipe: How to make red velvet cheesecake brownies.

 For the record, I am not much of a baker.  I'll cook all day long, but it takes a major event for me to put on my bakers hat.  When I do bake, it's got to be a fool proof recipe otherwise I know that something is going to go wrong.  One of the recipes that I have been making and perfecting for the past ten years is the famous red velvet cheesecake brownie!  Every year I include a few in my holiday cookie boxes as a little treat.  I'll then whip up another batch for Valentine's Day because they're festive (red) and it's a recipe I've practiced!

This is a two part recipe.  The first part is to make the brownie batter and the second part is to make the cheesecake batter for the top.  While they're baked on top of each other, I do like to swirl some brownie mix through the cheesecake topping to make it look fancy pretty.

recipe for festive dessert red velvet cheesecake brownie

Disclosure: This site contains affiliate links to products.  We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links. Please note that I would only recommend products that I would use myself and all opinions are my own.

Recipe:  Red Velvet Cheesecake Brownies


(1.5) Sticks salted butter
(1) Cup sugar
(1-1/2) Teaspoon vanilla
(1/4) Cup cocoa powder
(2) Tablespoons red food coloring
(1) Teaspoon apple cider vinegar
(2) Eggs
(1) Cup flour
Pinch of salt

(8) Ounces cream cheese (softened)
(1/4) Cup sugar
(1) Egg
(1/8) Teaspoon vanilla extract

how to make red velvet cheesecake brownies


Preheat the oven to 350*.

Butter (1) 13 x 9" baking pan and set aside.  Peep the word "butter".  Don't spray Pam because it isn't the same!

Melt the butter in the microwave and pour into a large mixing bowl.  Add the sugar, vanilla, cocoa powder, food coloring, salt, and vinegar into the bowl.  Using an electric mixer, combine all of the ingredients.  Whisk the eggs and then add it into the brownie mixture.  In small doses, add the flour and mix until completely combined.  Pour the batter into the buttered baking pan and set aside.

In a separate large bowl, add the cream cheese, sugar, eggs, and vanilla.  Using the hand mixer, blend completely.  Cautiously pour the cream cheese mixture over the brownie mixture in the buttered pan.  Make sure the top layer is as even as possible.  Using a knife, scrape the remaining brownie mixture and swirl it through the cheesecake for a that fancy pretty design.

Bake for 30 minutes.  After fully cooked through, place the brownies on a cooling rack.  Do not attempt to cut these until they are completely cooled down.

how to make red velvet cheesecake brownie

Tip:  Use a plastic knife to cut through the brownies when it is time.  Plastic knives are less likely to collect pieces of brownie as your cutting through.  The end result will be more aesthetically pleasing and you'll have less wasted brownie.  That's a double win!

Idea:  I absolutely LOVE this pan because it cooks evenly and it has a lid for the easiest dessert transport ever.  It's inexpensive enough to purchase two that way you can leave your pan at your host's home until all the goodies are eaten.  Unless, of course, the host is a pan hoarder.  Then bake in a disposable aluminum one.

What's your favorite baked treat?
Monday, January 18, 2021

List: Ten reasons to stay offsite during a Disney World vacation for an even better trip.

Last May, we had a family vacation planned and paid in full for a trip to Walt Disney World.  Like many others, we had to delay our trip for an unknown date in the future.  We've been pushing our trip out every 4 months to ensure that we don't lose our money.  Well, our next "fake date" has officially passed and it has my husband and I being thankful for one thing in particular.  We're happy that we never stay onsite at Disney World so our funds tied up with them are minimal!

This whole situation got me thinking.  Why do we prefer to stay offsite?  As you all are probably predicting, I came up with a list of 10 to answer this very loaded question!

best hotel to stay at off disney property in orlando florida

Disclosure: This site contains affiliate links to products.  We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links. Please note that I would only recommend products that I would use myself and all opinions are my own.

Ten reasons to stay offsite of Disney properties.

For starters, our favorite place to stay during all our Disney trips is the Sheraton Vistana Resort Villas (link) which is literally minutes away from Walt Disney World.  It's clean, convenient, a great value, and especially perfect for families with children!

1.  You will save some serious cash.
When staying offsite, you're not saving a few bucks.  You're saving a significant amount of money.  You can find quality if not better hotel rooms offsite Disney properties for more than half the price.  Remember, when staying onsite Disney properties, you're paying for convenience and the magic of being in a fantasy world.  Before booking your vacation, ask yourself if being immersed in Disney even while sleeping is worth paying all that extra cash.

2.  You'll get more for your money.
In addition to saving boat loads of cash, staying offsite Disney properties will give you more bang for your buck.  Your accommodations can cost less with greater value and much more luxury.  For example, when we stay at Sheraton Vistana Resort Villas, we're blessed with unbeatable accommodations that include a full kitchen, seven gorgeous pools to choose from, onsite sports such as tennis, mini golf, or shuffleboard, and five onsite and super affordable dining options.  As much as we love Disney, we try to pick a day or two to really enjoy what the resort has to offer while simply relaxing.

3.  You'll get a break from the Disney hustle.
To stay onsite at Disney Properties is to fully immerse yourself in the Disney experience.  Some find this appealing, whiles others like myself enjoy a day's reprieve from the crowds and the overwhelming presence of the Disney fantasy.  Staying offsite is an easy way to catch a break and schedule time to unwind.

4.  You'll be inclined to have a personal means of transportation.
Many people will catch a ride to a Disney hotel and then never leave Walt Disney's property for the remainder of their trip.  I personally prefer to have my own car nearby so that I can easily come and go as I please.  This is especially important to me since I have young children and leaving the Disney property without a car could be a hassle.  When staying offsite, you're more likely to bring your own car or rent one leaving you with a sincere sense of freedom.

5.  You'll have more freedom with your itinerary.
Let's face it, there's so much to see and do in the area that you sometimes want to venture outside of the fantasy world of Disney.  Whether it's a quick visit to Sea World or insert dramatic gasp a day trip to Universal, you'll find it much easier to do when staying offsite.  While you technically could venture to these places while staying onsite, you'd be losing out on all of the perks that you paid such a high price for when choosing to stay onsite.

6.  You may get free breakfasts.
One of the first things that I look for when going on vacation is free continental breakfasts included with my stay.  This leaves me with one less meal to worry about.  Aside from being yet another way to save money, free breakfasts are convenient and usually healthier than overindulging at fancy restaurants.

Idea:  When visiting Magic Kingdom, we always try to snag a timeslot for a breakfast in the park before the park actually opens.  This helps us tremendously since it eliminates the need to wait on those crazy lines for the park to open.  Not to mention, it's a really cool sight to see the park empty like a VIP!

7.  You could participate in hotel activities.
One of my favorite parts of staying at Sheraton Vistana Resort Villas is their list of daily activities for their guests.  They'll have activities for the kids that include fun games to play poolside, arts and crafts, BINGO, organized sporting events, trivia nights, wine & cheese tastings for the adults, and so much more!  On our "relaxation day" we always make sure to cash in on a few of the fun activities that the resort has planned for us.  When staying onsite at Disney properties, there are limited if any activities included with your stay making this a nice little perk to staying offsite!

8.  You'll be able to gain or cash in on rewards points.
As a woman that literally travels for a living, I accumulate lots of points each year.  To make sure I get the maximum benefit of this, I always stay in the same brand of hotels.  If you stay offsite, you can reap the rewards of this.

9.  You'll have more pet friendly options available to you.
Before I get further into this one, I don't think bringing your pet with you to your Disney vacation is the most fabulous idea.  Since most activities are not pet friendly, your poor little companion will be stuck in a hotel room all by themselves.  But, if you feel that you must bring your pooch with you on your trip, you'll find better accommodations for your pet offsite.  There are very limited Disney World hotels that will allow pets onsite and it doesn't come cheap!  If you're traveling with pets, this perk for staying offsite Disney properties may become #1!

10.  You'll have access to a personal washer/dryer.
One of the best luxuries of staying at Sheraton Vistana Resort Villas is the access to your personal washer and dryer in your room!  This little perk means more room in your luggage and peace of mind when traveling with messy toddlers.  Unless you're paying big bucks for a deluxe villa, this perk isn't happening when staying on Disney property.

Now that it's 2021, I should add the perk titled "You'll have less funds tied up with Disney if your trip was planned during a global pandemic.".  All jokes aside, there are perks to staying onsite and offsite Disney properties.  It all comes down to personal preference, circumstances, and the type of Disney experience that you're looking for.

Have you ever been to Disney World?
Friday, January 15, 2021

Life: Friday Ramblings

I'm loving my new... mug that says "Coffee with Cuomo".  My friend's wife made it for me because we are two of the few people that love our local governor.  Cuomo cares about the people, always tries his best, advocates for the children's education, and is quite handsome.

That mug has triggered a silent...
...war in my household!  As much as I love our governor, my husband can't stand him.  Every morning, I put my mug out for display and every evening it makes it's way back to the cupboard.  The funny part is, neither of us say a word about this.  We just keep quietly doing it in the hopes that one of us forgets our new routine one day.

It's getting real hard to...
...stay awake at work.  I'm going through a two week training course on how to use a new system, and it's putting me to sleep!  Since I'll be living in this system to do my job, I'm trying so hard to pay attention, but virtual training is proving to be tedious.  Now I can relate to my daughter's inattentiveness during virtual lessons!

I'm still cracking up at...
...the instructor of the training when she yelled out in frustration "Holy Schmakalaka!"  Um, what?!  That's definitely a new one for me!

We are REAL excited for...
...the snowtubing trip that we officially booked!  To take advantage of outdoor activities, we'll be taking a drive way upstate about 4 hours north to be exact to go snowtubing.  While it isn't exactly a vacation, we're happy to have something to look forward to that's a very low risk activity.  Before we head home the next day, we'll be stopping by Stratton Falls so the kiddies can see the waterfall.  We're not going to let the Winter force us into hibernation.  Instead, we're going to continue connecting with nature while participating in pandemic safe activities.

What are your Friday Ramblings?
Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Review: A honest and detailed review of Present Pets.

Children today have an odd obsession with watching other people open boxes and blind bags.  Don't believe me?  Look up Ryan's Toy Review then..  Knowing this, my husband gave my daughter permission to hijack R&W to do the same thing.  You had to see her eyes light up when he said it.  Those brightly lit eyes made it impossible for me to say no.  I told her to pick ONE toy to review and that's it.  Well, she originally picked an egg filled with slime, so we went with her second choice.  The problem was, baby girl didn't have her chosen toy so how could she review it?  I told her to write a letter to Santa Claus explaining the problem and then after Christmas maybe we could do her review.

Ladies and gentleman, Santa Claus delivered with her #1 most wanted toy, Present Pets!

what is a present pet and how does it work

Disclosure: This site contains affiliate links to products.  We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links. Please note that I would only recommend products that I would use myself and all opinions are my own.

A honest & detailed review of Present Pets.

What are Present Pets?

Present Pets are interactive toy pets that unwrap themselves from their blind box packaging.

There are three different Present Pets styles to choose from.  There are Fancy Present Pets, Glitter and Glimmer Present Pets, and Dalmation Present Pets a Walmart exclusive.  All three styles have two different pets to choose from, but are packaged in a blind box making the choice a surprise!

What does "unwrap themselves" mean?

Great question because I didn't get it either!  In my opinion, the unwrapping experience is the biggest appeal of the toy.  After pulling a fancy tab in the shape of a bone, the toy is activated and begins to literally break through the box while making puppy noises.  As you can see in the picture above, holes in the shape of paw prints get punched through the box on multiple sides.  Within a few minutes, the box cracks in half on both sides and the Present Pet essentially is freed.

Where Present Pet gets points for performance, they lose points because the toy is VERY difficult to get out the base of the box.  It took three adults and a child to get it free even with the step by step instructions that are included.  To be clear, Present Pets open the box for you with a very fun and ADORABLE show, but they still need to be freed from their cardboard crate.

What else does Present Pets do?

If you look past the marketing gimmicks of the blind boxes and "unwrapping", Present Pets are still a pretty cool toy!  They are interactive stuffed animals with many fun features such as barking back as in imitating your bark, performing tricks, responding to tummy rubs, cuddle mode where they snuggle and snooze, and game time.  When you're not using the features, it's an adorable puppy that is soft and just the right size for a child's arms to carry around as a companion.  Present Pets also have over 100 different sounds and actions to add to the fun!

a real life experience of present pets

What does your daughter think?  As in, go away, woman.

Hi!  It's me here!  I think it's the best toy ever!  My Present Pet is named Cocoa and I love her so much and she loves me more than treats.  I love to take her for walks, have tea parties with her, and watch Trolls with her.  Trolls is her favorite movie because she likes to dance.  There is just one thing I don't like about my Present Pets.  Cocoa scares my real puppy, Thor.  Whenever I let Cocoa run free, my real puppy growls at it and barks at it like it's a robber.  I wish Present Pets didn't scare real puppies.  I wish they scared baby brothers though because he always tries to take Cocoa away from me.  My favorite part about Present Pets was finding out which pet I got and watching Cocoa break through the box!

Please note, my daughter is 7 so I had to edit minor errors to make this readable.  All opinions are her own.

Is there anything else we should know?

Unlike most blind bag toys, I do think this one is worth the money because the toy is "cool" on it's own.  As a mother, I want to invest in toys that are durable, safe, and entertaining.  Present Pets definitely hit all 3.  My fear when purchasing asking Santa for it was that after revealing the surprise choice, my daughter would lose interest.  Consider that fear squashed because baby girl hasn't put it down yet!  It's also easy to acquire since it's sold at most major retailers including Target, Walmart, and Amazon.

What were the kids in your life after this year?
Monday, January 11, 2021

List: Top ten best American movies released in 2020.

 Now that the holidays are all behind us, the positivity rate for COVID19 is higher than ever.  The best way to fight this is to lay low and stay home for a little while.  While we're technically not on lockdown again in NY, we're acting like it for the time being and are staying home, specifically, on the couch.  To help pass the time, we've been catching up on TV shows we fell behind on and movies that we've been wanting to watch.  Just in case you're voluntarily quarantining like us or just want to Netflix & chill, today I'm sharing my top ten favorite movies that were released in 2020.

Please note:  Before we begin, I must state a very important disclosure.  I have not yet seen The WitchesAfter I do, I have a feeling this list will be updated!

favorite movies of 2020 to watch

Disclosure: This site contains affiliate links to products.  We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links. Please note that I would only recommend products that I would use myself and all opinions are my own.

Top 10 best American movies released in 2020.

1.  Onward
This animated movie was so good that it had me feeling every type of emotion possible!  I laughed, cried, sobbed, sympathized, got happy, and even felt excitement and determination.  It's the story of two brothers on the quest to reunite with a lost parent but instead found what was right in front of their faces all along.  This is a must see, even if you don't have kids!
Can be found here.

2.  My Spy
This comedy was surprisingly heartwarming.  I found myself laughing the entire way only to stop a few times to gush out an "aww".  It's the perfect movie for a Valentine's Day date night on the couch!
Can be found here.

This movie stars the super hunky Chris Hemsworth.  You're welcome!
Can be found here.

This movie is the perfect Winter flick!  It's a magical story of a Godmother that came to help a little girl that's not so little anymore.  It's super cute, heart warming, and just the perfect, light hearted movie to watch as a family.
Can be found here.

My daughter was supposed to watch this in the theaters for her 7th birthday but COVID19 squashed that.  Since I knew that she was patiently waiting to see it, I figured it would be a nice treat to watch for New Years Eve.  Trolls 2 did NOT disappoint!  It got all four of us on our feet singing and dancing.  It was a cute back story and the animation was fantastic.  Although, in full transparency, the original was better.
Can be found here.

To be completely honest, I only turned this one on for Mark Wahlberg.  I typically love his movies so when I see his name, I automatically click play.  This was by no means a five star flick, but it was definitely a fun ride!  It had lots of action, lots of laughs, and lots of Mark Wahlberg's famous one liners!
Can be found here.

7.  Mulan
Originally, I wasn't going to include this one on my list, but then I thought about it.  This movie was great as long as you don't associate it with the original version.  They are two very different movies.  If you watch the movie knowing this, you won't be so disappointed like I was the first time I watched it.
Can be found here.

This is the total opposite of a light hearted, fun movie to watch.  It's deep and will leave your heart sobbing.  It's based on the true story of an actor who joins the French resistance and works hard to save the lives of orphans left parentless after the Holocaust.
Can be found here.

This movie was hysterical and lots of fun!  It's the story of two single people that decide to only see each other on holidays to remove the pressure of finding a "date" during special occasions.  Also, the lead actor is smoking hot!
Can be found here.

10.  Lost Girls
Of all the 2020 movies, this was by far my favorite.  It didn't have any fancy effects or a fancy soundtrack.  Instead, it was a very accurate account of the Gilgo Beach Killer.  About ten years ago, us Long Islanders were caught off guard to learn that we had a serial killer living among us.  Fun fact:  The bodies were found less than 18 miles from my home!  As a local, I can confirm that we were all whispering that the county police were corrupt and protecting the killer.  Watch this movie, and you'll be whispering it too.  What I didn't know was the main victim's mother's side of the story.  It was a shock to learn of the devastation and horror that haunted this victim's family.  It's a MUST watch.
Can be found here.

Finally, the award for most disappointing film of 2020 goes to Dolittle!  I was really excited to see Robert Downy Jr.'s take on this classic character, but to say it fell short is an understatement.  I mean, Mulan even made my list over Dolittle!

What is your favorite 2020 flick?

Friday, January 8, 2021

Life: Friday Ramblings

birdhouse on a pole that looks like a real house

Disclosure: This site contains affiliate links to products.  We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links. Please note that I would only recommend products that I would use myself and all opinions are my own.

Life:  Friday Ramblings

I'm absolutely in love with...
...the birdhouse that my family got me for Christmas this year!

This birdhouse is from...
...Plow & Hearth.  It's called the Kingsgate Cottage Lighted Birdhouse.  It's not only beautiful to look at it, but it's made specifically for my favorite bird, a chickadee.  My husband did his research.  He found a birdhouse with an entrance hole sized specific for chickadees and purchased a pole so that the height of the birdhouse would also be fitting for chickadees.  To say he won the holidays is an understatement!

Someone please tell...
...the chickadees that there's a gorgeous rental available.  & all utilities are included!

I'm happy to report that...
...we had a great break from school, work, and life!  For the first time in almost a full year, I didn't want the kiddies to go back to school yet.  It's funny how when the pressures of work are off of you, you're able to actually slow down and enjoy your life.  It got me thinking that maybe I should start planning some mental health days throughout the year just to enjoy my babies.

I'm in complete shock that...
...people are still putting their own agendas before the pandemic.  When people are sick, be happy that they're being responsible and staying away.  Don't get mad or insulted because they cancelled plans with you.  Health comes before a photoshoot family gatherings.

I'm even more shocked that...
...people think endless pictures of shrimp cocktail will entice us otherwise.  Seriously..

What are your Friday Ramblings?

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Book Review: The Secret Letter by Debbie Rix

 This past month has been absolute insanity in my life.  Even still, I somehow managed to listen to an entire audiobook in less than a month.  If it's a testament to anything, it's proof of how amazing this historical fiction novel was.  I may have even listened to it while in the shower a few times..

The novel is titled The Secret Letter by Debbie Rix.
The book is read by Jacqueline King.
The unabridged version is 12 hours and 21 minutes long.

how is the audiobook of the secret letter by debbie rix

Disclosure: This site contains affiliate links to products.  We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links. Please note that I would only recommend products that I would use myself and all opinions are my own.

Book Review:  The Secret Letter by Debbie Rix

The Secret Letter by Debbie Rix starts off in the year 2018.  The scene begins with one of the two main characters reminiscing on her earlier years of life.  The setting quickly changes to the year 1939 in England, just before the outbreak of World War II.  This is where the reader is introduced to Imogen, the main character mentioned above, but as a young girl.  Early on the reader will learn of her independent, quick-witted, and adventurous personality.  A little further into the book, you're introduced to the second leading lady of the novel, Magda.  Magda is a young girl living on her family's farm in a small village in Germany.  With a personality and perseverance similar to Imogen's, the reader will quickly realize that both young ladies are about to make significant impacts in the war.

This author based this novel on a true story that was very close to home.  The character, Imogen, was loosely based on her mother.  You learn through the author's notes at the end of the story that the letters written in the book are direct quotes found in her own mother's letters.  Eep!  I mean, how cool is that?!  The author's father is also depicted in this book as a RAF pilot.  Magda is also based on a real person.  That person is her father's hero, literally.

Other supporting characters in the novel were present, but the one that stood out to me the most was Otto.  Otto was a German boy that fell in love with Magda at an early age.  His sick, twisted love for Magda reminded me of Wuthering Heights.  It left me pondering whether this was true love or an obsession.  Either way, I was left confused regarding my feelings for him.  The author depicted him as a monster.  While the depiction was accurate, I always felt this flicker of hope that Otto would have some sort of redemption.  While committing unforgiveable acts, I never gave up hope that his character would be redeemed.  The author kept this hope alive by displaying glimmers of humanity in him.  You'll have to read the book to find out if I was right!

I have read many historical fiction novels that took place during World War II, but The Secret Letter was truly unique.  For starters, it barely mentioned concentration camps or the crimes against humanity that happened there.  Instead, it told the stories of brainwashing, true heroinism, and of the German resistance.  Of all my readings, this is the first time that I have come across tales of the German resistance.  The Secret Letter told true stories of the Wrens, humanity during a crisis, and the different roles that women played in the war.  But, of all these things, The Secret Letter was truly a book about hope, love, and kindness.  It's proof that even in the darkest moments in history, true heroes prevail.

I would highly recommend The Secret Letter by Debbie Rix.

This is the absolute perfect book to get you through the Winter, if you can make it last that long.

Have you read The Secret Letter?
Monday, January 4, 2021

List: Ten family friendly activities to do this Winter season.

 Now that the holiday season has passed us by, it's time to embrace the Winter and do our best to enjoy it.  While I'm not a huge fan of the snow or the freezing cold temperatures, there are some perks to Winter.  This season usually brings us snow days, comfortable sweaters, and some fabulous hair days.  Now that we're all in a positive mood, we can start to plan the best Winter yet!  Let's brainstorm some seasonal activities to keep us out of hibernation and the cookie jar this season.

winter bucket list for family to keep out of hibernation

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Ten family friendly activities to do this Winter.

1.  Bake for a good cause.
Reach out to your local community outreach programs and see if they have a baking program you can participate in.  Once it's set up, bust out your apron, bake the day away, and resist the urge to eat everything!  Once done, box up all your goodies and deliver them so that they can be passed on to people who really appreciate them.

Idea:  Not sure you want to bake for humans?  Many animals shelters will take donations of home baked dog treats as well.  As long as your baked goodies fill a hungry belly, they totally went to a good cause!

2.  Get creative with the Super Bowl.
A common Winter activity in the US is the Super Bowl.  Let's spice it up this year!  In addition to the traditional Super Bowl boxes, put together a BINGO board and less traditional bets.  This is a great way to stay engaged with friends and family while remaining in the comfort of your own home.  Oh, and don't forget the pigs in a blanket!

3.  See a performance from a local art school.
My daughter and I's favorite show to pay a small fee to see is at a ballet school for children.  The ballerinas in training put on a spectacular performance.  Other schools charge to see their students put on a play or a musical.  Whatever it is, venture out and enjoy the entertainment while engaging your community.

Idea:  Unable to see it in person thanks to the pandemic?  No worries!  Many places are accommodating this with virtual performances.  Set up your living room like a theater, pop some popcorn, and enjoy the show while supporting your local schools of art!

4.  Coordinate an at home dance off.
We have way too much fun playing Just Dance on our Wii.  They make this same game for most gaming consoles.  They also make similar games that you could look into.  Don't want to invest in a game?  No problem!  You can always YouTube some silly dances, recruit a judge, and compete.  This silly afternoon will keep you moving, warm, and laughing.

5.  Find a hill and spend the afternoon snow tubing.
As cool as Winter sports like skiing or snow boarding look, I must admit that I'll never be coordinated enough to do either.  Instead, I'll plop my butt down in a snow tube while uncontrollably spinning down a hill screaming my brains out!

Idea:  If your kids love tubing as much as mine do, check out this super cool unicorn snow tube or this really awesome bull dog snow tube.  You'll save in the long run because they'll never want a sled and you'll never have to rent an expensive snow tube!  You're welcome.

6.  Spend a day filling up the freezer.
Gather your favorite soup recipes like this Homemade Chicken & Sweet Potato Soup Recipe and put on your chef hat!  Spend the day cooking up your favorite freezable dishes, separating them into dinner sized portions, and placing them in your freezer for future use.  This is a fun, productive day in the kitchen while helping you skip all that potential, unhealthy take out you were going to order this Winter!

7.  Learn how to make a chunky blanket.
Knitting may sound like something Grandma is doing all year round, but chunky blanket making is done by hand as in, without knitting needles and is totally modern!

Idea:  Need help getting started?  I bought this set to learn how to make a chunky scarf.  I figured it would either make or break my idea without committing to a full blanket!

8.  Set up a Winter themed scavenger hunt.
If you're not sick of my scavenger hunts yet, set up a Winter themed one for the kiddies.  On a nicer day, take them for a walk and have them search for silly things in the neighborhood.  You'll have a blast with your children and may even discover a place that you haven't explored yet.

9.  Make homemade suet for the birds.
The birds that stay for the Winter are looking desperately for food sources.  Help them out by making some homemade suet.  The birds that love this type of feed are woodpeckers, blue jays, and chickadees.  Please note, this should be a Winter activity unless you want to clean up some melted suet bricks in the Summer sun!

10.  Participate in a polar bear plunge!
A Polar Bear Plunge is the Winter activity for the most dedicated to their seasonal bucket list.  Pick your favorite charity to support, your favorite swim suit, and your warmest towel.  In support of that charity, dunk your body into the freezing cold water at your local beach, lake, or pool.  Then go hibernate.  You deserve it after this one.

What do you have planned this Winter?