Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Book Review: Missing Molly

Author: Natalie Barelli
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Lori's Book Club Rating: 6 Thumbs Up!

"Everyone has secrets, and Rachel Holloway is no exception. She's worked hard to keep the past where it belongs: dead and buried. And so far, she's been very successful. But now the small newspaper where she works wants to produce a podcast on a cold case: the disappearance 12 years ago of young Molly Forster. 
Some secrets should never see the light of day, and, as far as Rachel is concerned, whatever happened to little Molly is one of them. Rachel has a life now - a boyfriend she loves and a three-year-old daughter she adores - and she will do anything to protect them. But to do that, no one can ever know that she is Molly Forster." (From the description page on Amazon)

Lori's Review

WHAT THE... WHAT?!?  The author tells us, straight up, that Rachel Holloway is the girl who has been missing for twelve years. The girl everyone has been searching for. The girl presumed dead by most, but who's story lives on in conspiracy theories. This tidbit of information is typically revealed at the end of a book. One final twist that nobody saw coming. But Natalie Barelli has even written her twist with a twist. The reader cheers Rachel on in her attempt to hide her identity from the people who so desperately want her found. This becomes problematic when Rachel's employer tasks her with investigating the Forster family murders and subsequent disappearance of twelve-year-old Molly.  

This is one book I could not put down. It had me from page one. I.WAS.IN! And I was rooting for Rachel the entire time, on the edge of my seat and wanting so badly to see her come through this trial unscathed. The author had me brainstorming options for Rachel in my spare time. At one point she even had me questioning what I believed to be true about the story line. It was just one fantastic web of intrigue, uncertainty, and deception. The only thing I didn't like about the book was the end. Not the "ending", but THE END.  I just didn't want the story to end. Natalie Barelli books are now on my radar. Six enthusiastic thumbs up!

Monday, September 23, 2019

Cultural Appropriation...Or Something

"Lori's House of Crazy". That's the name of this blog for a really good reason. MY HOUSEHOLD IS CRAZY! Today's offering of insanity is courtesy of thirteen-year-old Daniel, who has been perfecting his "British accent" since we stayed at the fancy hotel in Washington DC in July. Why a fancy hotel brings about a Brit accent is beyond me. It just does, okay?  Also, please note how I define "British accent" in this instance:  "an epic failure at proper English, but a massive WIN in the comedy department none-the-less."

This weekend Army Guy left for a business trip and Daniel "bid him farewell" in proper 18th century English fashion. "Goodbye Father. Do travel safely whilst I sleep." Army Guy was seriously amused. But y'all...today Daniel absolutely slayed me when he decided to speak with the accent of a British person who is attempting an American accent. Cringe-worthy and comic gold!

I finally decided that if the child was going to continue this dialect, he needed a little training. I thought maybe he would enjoy the opportunity to immerse himself in the fascinating world of Brit-speak to perfect the Queen's proper English. That's right, I conned him into suggested he should accompany me to see Downton Abbey "for research". Since he had absolutely zero clue what he was getting into, he thought it would be great to just hang out with "mum" and eat popcorn. How could that be anything but delightful? Daniel was IN! 

Half way through the movie I looked over at Daniel and he was legit staring at the ceiling. When I asked what he was doing he replied, "trying to see if my head will fit between these two seats". So.... I'm guessing he was bored or something? Listen, I knew this was not a movie Daniel would enjoy. It was a little evil of me to suggest he accompany me. But in my defense, he HAS been annoying his brothers with his really bad British accent for two months now. So he totally deserved a couple hours of torture. When I asked if he was able to pick up some of the dialect he responded with, "No, they were just too British!" Did you hear that loyal subjects of the queen? Daniel thinks your speech is just way too British. I'm not even sure what that means, but I do believe this movie has cured him of his really-bad-accent-obsession. So I'm calling that a win.

As we walked to the car I thanked Daniel for being such a great date. Daniel didn't hesitate for even a nanosecond with his reply. "I died a little on the inside".
Great, his man-training is now complete! Win number two for the mama!

Just for fun, here is Daniel with me at the grocery store last week. He's driving on the left. "Because I'm British, Mum!"

This child... 😂😂😂

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Basic Alfredo Sauce and Accidental Brilliance

Penne Alfredo with Chicken and Mushrooms
Alfredo Pasta is my go-to quick dinner. It's super easy, gives my family the ultra yummies and is ready in the amount of time it takes to boil up some pasta. WIN! 
Below is the recipe I use. I've tried several recipes, including one from a "traditional Italian cookbook" that begins with a classic béchamel and includes nutmeg. (I may be off base here, but I'm going with - "Nutmeg in Alfredo sauce is just weird") That recipe was good, but this one is GREAT (and also easier).  Guess which one I prefer?

Classic Alfredo

1 stick of butter
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup grated, fresh Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste (1/2 teaspoon - ish)
pinch of garlic powder
1 pound rotini pasta

(Note: sometimes I double the sauce for a creamier/saucier pasta. Because, let's face it, what my life really needs is more butter....MORE BUTTER!)

Cook pasta according to package directions.

In a medium sauce pan, melt butter in the cream over medium heat. Stir in fresh Parmesan and simmer for a few minutes, stirring occasionally with a whisk until the cheese is completely melted. Season with salt, pepper and garlic. Pour sauce over pasta, and viola...yummy dinner is served.

Add ins: At this point I usually add in steamed broccoli florets and cooked chicken breast (cubed) or shrimp that I have sautéed in butter and seasoned with a little garlic, salt and pepper. 

Serves 8
Approximately 415 calories per serving (for pasta and plain Alfredo sauce)

Here's where the accidental brilliance comes in. A few weeks ago I made sausage and spinach manicotti, which was ah-maze-ing!  That recipe left me with about 2 cups of extra stuffing; a mixture of ricotta cheese, sausage and spinach. I didn't want to throw that away so I shoved it into the freezer to create another something on another day. Well, "another day" was last night. I decided to stir that ricotta and sausage mixture into the Alfredo sauce. Sweet Mother of Moses!!!  I created something genius! 

Here's how to create Alfredo a la Lori:
Start with the Classic Alfredo Sauce above (this is one time you DO NOT want to double the sauce recipe).

Add  the following:
  • 1 cup of steamed, fresh spinach. Squeeze to drain excess water. (It will take 4 or 5 cups of raw spinach to get a cup of cooked spinach. Or... just use 1/2 a brick of chopped, frozen spinach - defrosted and drained.) 
  • 1/2 pound of browned sausage
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 2 cups steamed broccoli florets
Pour heavenly Alfredo mixture over pasta of choice (I use Rotini)

This recipe is super rich and creamy. It will also go straight to your backside so I recommend doing ten minutes of squats while the pasta cooks. This disclaimer is required because I cannot be held responsible for enlarged butts. mmmmkay?

Serves 8
Approximately 615 calories per serving

Friday, September 13, 2019

Book Review: The Lying Game

The Lying Game
Author: Ruth Ware
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Lori's Book Club Rating: 5 Thumbs Up

“So many questions....Until the very last page! Needless to say, I could not put this book down!” —Reese Witherspoon

“Once again the author of The Woman in Cabin 10 delivers mega-chills.” —People

“Missing Big Little Lies? Dig into this psychological thriller about whether you can really trust your nearest and dearest.” —Cosmopolitan

"From the instant New York Times bestselling author of blockbuster thrillers In a Dark, Dark Wood and The Woman in Cabin 10 comes a chilling new novel of friendship, secrets, and the dangerous games teenaged girls play.

On a cool June morning, a woman is walking her dog in the idyllic coastal village of Salten, along a tidal estuary known as the Reach. Before she can stop him, the dog charges into the water to retrieve what first appears to be a wayward stick, but to her horror, turns out to be something much more sinister

The next morning, three women in and around London—Fatima, Thea, and Isa—receive the text they had always hoped would never come, from the fourth in their formerly inseparable clique, Kate, that says only, “I need you.

The four girls were best friends at Salten, a second-rate boarding school set near the cliffs of the English Channel. Each different in their own way, the four became inseparable and were notorious for playing the Lying Game, telling lies at every turn to both fellow boarders and faculty. But their little game had consequences, and as the four converge in present-day Salten, they realize their shared past was not as safely buried as they had once hoped

Atmospheric, twisty, and with just the right amount of chill to keep you wrong-footed, The Lying Game is told in Ruth Ware’s signature suspenseful style, lending itself to becoming another unputdownable thriller from the Agatha Christie of our time."

( From the book description on Amazon)

Lori's Book Review

"So many questions"...indeed. This novel had the book club guessing until the very end. At the risk of being cliche, I'm calling this one a real "who-done-it", "page-turner".  Incidentally, none of us guessed who actually "did it", though of few of us did have an eye on the guilty character. This novel is filled with suspense and intrigue.  

Parts of this story require the reader to suspend belief. "That would not actually happen in real life", was a sentiment held by all. But, given the fact that one of my favorite stories is Outlander (A time travel saga)...clearly I am capable of suspending belief. 

The story follows the lives of four teenagers who meet at a private all girls school in Southern England. The girls get into some trouble and make questionable choices which have severe consequences decades after leaving school.

How far would you go to cover for a friend? How long would you hold the lie? What if you weren't even sure your fellow liar friends had told YOU the truth? Would you risk it all?

If you like suspense, murder, and twists and turns, this is your book. Book Club rating: 5 Thumbs Up!

If you have read this book, please tell us what you thought in the comments below. 

An Encore Post From The Archives

The Best $17 Ever Spent... EVER!

3-Day Ticket to Disneyland - $4,000,000
The face painting that the child begged and begged for - $17
Getting this photo 4 minutes later - PRICELESS

It was the summer of 2013 and we were in the middle of a California vacation. During that trip we made a last minute decision to visit Disneyland. The Ducklings were super excited. 

On this day we were at the California Adventure Park and Dewey and Louie had spent hours begging me to take them on the Tower of Terror. Now, I love a good thrill ride, I do. Give me the scariest stink'n roller coaster you've got and I AM IN! But the Tower of Terror is not my idea of fun. AT ALL! I rode it once and that was enough for me. There were naughty words involved. Let's just leave it at that.

So I was not at all inclined to take my 6 and 7 year old sons on this torture contraption which includes the word "terror" for good reason. NOPE! But they begged and begged and, quite frankly, they just wore me down. I might have given in so that I could teach them that I really did know best and that they should just trust their mother's judgment. However it goes... I gave in.

While standing in line I tried to get them to change their minds. "It's super scary.... Please don't make mommy do this... please". It should be noted that they were too young to go on the ride alone. So if they really wanted to go, I had to go too. Why didn't Army Guy go, you ask? Bahahahahahaha...  breathe...  hahahaha... Army guy gets queasy on the Tea Cups. True story.

So we went... we screamed... it sucked... we survived. End of story. Or maybe not...

Prior to this little adventure of terror, Louie had been begging and begging to get his face painted. "Please mom... PLEASE".  He wanted it pretty badly. As luck would have it, there was a face painting stand right as we were leaving the Tower of Terror ride. So Army Guy and I decided to give in and let the child have his face painted. We knew it was a waste of $17.00, but this was Disney; at some point you stop caring about what you are spending because... whatever... right?  Disney broke us down. They are pretty good at that. 

So Louie chose his face painting design. When I say "chose" I really mean, "carefully selected... CAREFULLY". He wanted just the right one. So, Louie got his face painted and he was super happy; until he saw his reflection and then he was super not happy. Within four minutes the child began begging us to take it off. By that time we were in line for another ride so I told him, "OK, as soon as this ride is over, Daddy will take you to the bathroom to wash it off". Apparently the line was too long, or the paint was itchy, or something and Louie LOST HIS MIND. So, Army Guy left the line with Louie to go wash his face; but I made sure to get this photo first. I'm evil like that.  

In hind-sight, Louie was probably just traumatized by the Tower of Terror. But no matter the reason... I promise you... as long as I breathe... this photo will make me laugh. It just will. Army Guy and I text it back and forth to each other just for grins. Louie thinks that's just mean, but whatever. This photo cost me $4,000,017... and it was so worth it!  

This story highlights two times that my son pleaded for something that he didn't need and wasn't best for him. And two times, against my better judgement, I gave in. In the first case it was to teach him a lesson, and in the second case, to please him. Both of these instances were miserable failures. It occurred to me that this is exactly what happens when we leave the plan that God has for our lives. When we "go rouge" misery often follows.

A favorite scripture among Christians is Jeremiah 29:11.  

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord,
 "plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future".

God has big plans for our lives. He knows what is best for us in addition to what is not good at all. But often times we think we know better than God. When I was in high school I wanted this particular young man as my boyfriend. I told God what I wanted, but God "wasn't listening". I cried and begged and pleaded; my tender little hormonal teenage heart was broken. The drama was real, y'all. But God knew he had something so much better for me if I would just be patient and wait upon the Lord. 

"But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; 
they shall mount up with wings as eagles;
 they shall run, and not be weary;
 they shall walk, and not faint."  Isaiah 40:31

What if God had given my teenage heart what it wanted most of all? I can say with absolute certainty that, at some point, my face would have ended up like Louie's in this picture. No doubt! God knew that boy wasn't part of my future or my hope. He knew Army Guy and my precious "Ducklings" were the treasures He intended for me. My life is so much better than I could have ever imagined and it's all because God said "no" to what teenage me knew was best. I am overjoyed to admit I was wrong, and incredibly thankful that God said "no".

When God says "no" remember that he knows how your life will turn out and His plans for you are big. Going "rouge" never ends well... ever. Wait upon the Lord and in His perfect time He will reveal His perfect plan for you.

(Note: This post first appeared on Lori's House of Crazy on Oct 1, 2017)

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

This Day - I will Cherish

photo by Alex Jones on Unsplash

It's zero-dark-thirty in the morning. I'm up, barely functioning, and getting my new freshman off to school. We're a month into this insane early morning schedule. High School. This is where we are now, and it happened way too fast. 

I watch him walk toward the bus, all 6'4" of him. His stride is confident; he is owning this day. He's not nervous or anxious about high school. He is ready. I am not. It seems like yesterday I took him to kindergarten. Memories of that day churn within me as I fight back a tear. Mental photos flash in my mind - a slideshow of the moments I won’t forget. The three-year-old who was terrified of the smoke detector; the four-year old who said “Mom, you are awesome and I just want to hang out with you”; the kindergarten kid who was fascinated with the microphone during the Bible School program; and now the “big kid” who cares for and protects his brothers, and really, REALLY wants a LamborghiniWhere did the time go?

While I was busy writing a book about the preschool years, my children were growing and becoming incredibly cool people. And today, with my almost 15-year-old headed to high school, I am painfully aware that taking my son to college is in my near future. High school will be over in a nanosecond and then he will be gone from my home. And then one-by-one, they will all be gone. This is both the blessing and the curse of motherhood.

Many of you faced the "college good-bye" for the first time this month. You took your first born to college and then posted the photos on Facebook. Entire families, tears in their eyes, sharing a final moment before the family unit is no longer “complete”. Five becomes four. Soon they will be three. And then, in just a few short years, only two remain - the way it all began. Just seeing those photos made me cry. I could see both pain and pride on the mommy faces. It looked so hard. You were brave. How did you do it?

If we do a good job as parents, we will raise amazing and successful individuals. But before they can go do the things they were born to do, and be the people God created them to be, they must step out on their own. THAT is the most painful part about being a parent. Letting go. But what is the alternative? I certainly don't want a 36 year old living in my home and playing video games full time while he eats All.The.Food!  Letting go is difficult. Clearly not letting go would be problematic.  

And so, today my emotions are all over the place. This is the natural progression of parenting. We think raising preschoolers is so hard - and it is - but that is nothing compared to adjusting to life without them. Every parent before me knows this. It.Is.Hard.

For all the mommies out there who took their children young adults to college this month - I salute you. I don't know how you are walking around with any semblance of composure. I know your heart is breaking as you adjust to your new normal. I cry with you at the thought of this becoming my reality in just four short years.

So as he steps into his high school years, I resolve to do better, be better, love harder, and give more. I have this day to cherish. Tomorrow’s worries are for a future me who is better equipped to handle tomorrow’s pain. Today I will make a conscious effort to hold my children a little tighter and tell them I love them a few more times. Today I will strive to be in the moment, for all the moments I have left. The moments are precious - they are my treasures. I will not waste them. I will cherish this day.


There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens.
Ecclesiastes 3:1 (NIV)

Monday, September 9, 2019

Baked Spaghetti

I love spaghetti...I do. But I was in a total rut, and making spaghetti Way.Too.Often! My family was getting bored. So, did I stop making spaghetti? NOPE! I just searched for new and improved versions of my "go-to easy dinner".  I found a baked spaghetti recipe online, but it called for a jar of spaghetti sauce. Look, I'm all about easy in the kitchen. I mean, I buy pre-made pie crust, so I am not judging anyone who wants to buy the spaghetti sauce in a jar. You do what you do. BUT... if, like me, you find the jar sauce is too sweet, here is a great meat sauce recipe for you.  (And also, WHY is sugar added to literally EVERYTHING! Just say "no" to added sugar.) Making your own meat sauce is easy and super tasty. Win! Plus - the directions are right here, so you really have to try it or my feelings will be hurt. Just kidding. 

Note: this is also the sauce I use for lasagna - which I made last night. And I must say, last night's lasagna was on point! Super delish.  But there is no way the ducklings will "kick me off this show" if I keep on cook'n like this. DRAT )


Meat Sauce
1 lb Ground Beef *
1 Onion, chopped
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
1 15 oz. can tomato sauce
1 15 oz. can petite diced tomatoes
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
1 cup water
1 tbs Italian seasoning
1 tbs dried parsley
1 bay leaf
1 tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper

Cream Cheese Mixture
4 oz. cream cheese
½ cup sour cream
½ tsp salt
2 tsp Italian seasoning
1 tbs dried parsley

1 lb spaghetti
1 cup Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
½ cup Shredded Parmesan Cheese

Sauce: Brown ground beef with minced garlic and chopped onion. (*A tasty option is ½ ground beef and ½ ground sausage. Or substitute the beef with turkey. Whatever you like, do that). Drain. Stir in all canned tomatoes, water, Italian seasoning, parsley, bay leaf, salt and pepper. (If you don’t have Italian seasoning, substitute 1 tsp basil and 1 tsp oregano). Bring to a boil then reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 1-3 hours. (1 hour minimum but longer is better).

When the sauce is nearly finished, preheat the oven to 350 and bring 6 quarts of water to a boil. Cook spaghetti noodles according to package directions and drain. 

Cream Cheese Mixture: Mix cream cheese, sour cream, Italian seasoning, parsley flakes and salt. Stir cream cheese mixture into the cooked pasta. Set aside.

Spray a 9x12 pan with nonstick spray.  Coat the bottom of the baking pan with about 1 cup of sauce.  Divide the pasta, placing ½ in the pan and top with ½ of the sauce. Repeat with the rest of the pasta and sauce.  Top with mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses (For a twist, use cheddar cheese instead. It’s good that way too.)

Bake for 30 minutes. Serve with garlic bread and salad.
Serves 8.  About 370 calories per serving.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

The Difference Between Nerds and Geeks

I didn't know there was actually a difference between nerds and geeks. Did you? Shocking, the things a person can learn from an 8th grader. But here's the deal, my son is a nerd...NOT a geek. 

"That's awful! He's not a nerd!" You say? Yeah, I said that too.  But it seems that the term "nerd" is not what we think. Or maybe it's exactly what we think but my son has simply embraced this label and wears it with pride.

Now...is he a nerd? NO! He's not. He's super smart and studies hard to get straight A's. I guess he thinks that's what a nerd is. (Note to self: introduce the child to "Revenge of the Nerds"). 😂

It seems that, at some point in the past two years, Daniel had a teacher who taught him that the nerds are the leaders, inventors, entrepreneurs, CEO's and millionaires of tomorrow. Daniel thought, "YES! That's who I want to be! I must be a nerd!"  A healthy self-esteem was born that day. Hat tip to the genius teacher who gave a middle school kid the freedom to be completely awkward and still like himself.

I mean, this is the child who took a tin Super Mario lunch box to school on the first day of the 8th grade. When I suggested that middle school is harsh and other kids might make fun of him, he replied: "The kids at the cool table will invite me to sit with them. And I'll say, you come sit with me...THIS is the cool table". What an incredibly grown-up attitude for a junior high kid.

So anyway, Daniel has embraced the nerd. He is comfortable being awkward because he realizes everyone in middle school is awkward. He's just not willing to pretend otherwise. 

So, what is a geek? Daniel explains that a geek is a nerd who doesn't do well in school. He is completely socially awkward but his grades are just so-so. Daniel says he is clearly not a geek.

The question is, am I a geek?  Andrew wanted to know:

Andrew: Mom, were you a nerd or a geek in school?
Me: What's the difference?
Daniel: (explains the above)
Me: I certainly wasn't a geek
Andrew: That's what all the geeks say.

These are the things that give me joy about living with junior high boys. They crack me up daily and sometimes even make me snort my coffee. Plus, they give me such great material in which to completely embarrass them one day when, eventually, they discover this blog. That's right!  I might be a geek but I am totally getting the last laugh!  😝

Monday, September 2, 2019

Book Review: Next Year in Havana

Next Year in Havana
Author: Chanel Cleeton
Genre: Historical Fiction
Lori's Book Club Rating:  6 Thumbs Up!*


'A beautiful novel that's full of forbidden passions, family secrets and a lot of courage and sacrifice.' — Reese Witherspoon

Back of Book Blurb
"Havana, 1958. The daughter of a sugar baron, nineteen-year-old Elisa Perez is part of Cuba's high society, where she is largely sheltered from the country's growing political unrest—until she embarks on a clandestine affair with a passionate revolutionary...

Miami, 2017. Freelance writer Marisol Ferrera grew up hearing romantic stories of Cuba from her late grandmother Elisa, who was forced to flee with her family during the revolution. Elisa's last wish was for Marisol to scatter her ashes in the country of her birth. Arriving in Havana, Marisol comes face-to-face with the contrast of Cuba's tropical, timeless beauty and its perilous political climate. 

When more family history comes to light and Marisol finds herself attracted to a man with secrets of his own, she'll need the lessons of her grandmother's past to help her understand the true meaning of courage." (From the book description on Amazon.com)

My Review
I wasn't all that interested in the idea of learning something new. I mean, typically I am a fan of learning things, but sometimes I just want to read a story that doesn't require me to think. So when this book was introduced I wasn't sure I would like it. HOWEVER, I was pleasantly surprised! Next Year in Havana is a wonderful novel based on the Cuban revolution which ran President Fulgencio Batista out of Cuba and replaced him with Fidel Castro in 1959. This is the fictional story of a wealthy sugar family in Cuba who was forced to flee their country when Castro came to power.  

Written in two timelines, the chapters alternate between the Perez family's escape from Cuba in 1958, and a present day decedent who discovers her family history and the events that brought her grandmother to America. This story gave me a better understanding of exactly how Castro came to power and why the Cuban people were, for the most part, accepting of the over-throw of their former government...at first. Not only did I learn something, I enjoyed the journey very much. 

This story is well researched and well written. Though most of my book club members agree it took about a hundred pages to really get into the story, we were all super glad we continued reading. At some point, mid book, this story becomes a real page turner.

If you like romance, suspense and history, this novel is worth your time. If you have read this book, tell us what you think in the comments. 

* Recommended by all six of the members of Lori's book club
Copywrite 2018 - Loretta Monroe