Jan 17

Do you want to win a free gift card to Nordstrom's!  Mommies with Cents is giving away a $200 gift card to Nordstrom's!

You can enter until February 2nd.  Good luck!

Jan 17

Carve the Mark coverYesterday I was a really happy camper because I had worked late on Monday and Veronica Roth's new book, Carve the Mark, had already arrived in my mailbox before I woke up.  Thank you mailman!  Of course, I was then up late yesterday finishing the book.

Many people that know me know that I absolutely adore Divergent.  The first time I read the book, it took me a few days to read the first 50 pages or so, but once I got to that point, I read the rest of that book AND the next two books in two days.  Then I read the entire series in Spanish.  I also have the first book in German and Russian.  At one point, I think I was the second best player in the world, of all time, in Divergent trilogy Quiz Up (I was the best player in the world in that game in a couple of different months... I'm currently the 3rd best player in the world of all time).

When I heard a year or two ago that Veronica Roth had been signed to write a sci-fi book about some characters in space, I was a little skeptical.  Is this going to be a Star Trek type book, and is it going to be any good?  I was going to have to read it anyway.

I love this book.  I will definitely be reading the rest of the books in this series when they come out (I believe that this is also supposed to be part of a trilogy).  Although the setting of this book is different, it still has a great plot, characters that you love (and some that you hate), and relationships that you are interested in.  Oh, and there's a plot twist at the end of the book that leave you with theories... and leave you with wanting more.

The book is set in a universe that is quite unlike ours.  As a result, the first chapter introduced a lot of new vocabulary that took a while to get used to (there is a glossary in the back though).  If you feel that way about halfway through the first chapter, don't put the book down!  After the first chapter, the fact that we were in a completely different universe with all different plants and ways of doing things didn't seem so distracting, and I'm sure that as I read through the book a second time, it will all seem normal and I will see more things in the book.

I don't want to give out any spoilers, but I will give out some basics.  In one part of the planet, we have Akos.  He's from a well-off family that cares for each other in a fairly peaceful society.  On the other part of the planet, there's Cyra, part of the royal family in a more warlike society.  Due to circumstances beyond their control, Akos and Cyra are forced to be a part of each other's lives.  They find a way to work together when they find out that they have similar goals, even though on paper, they probably shouldn't trust each other.  While that one-paragraph synopsis might not sound that exciting, the book is.

If you love Divergent, then you're probably going to love Carve the Mark.  Even though the setting is different, people (or human-like people, at least) in Veronica Roth's worlds are people no matter where you go.  Some are inherently ambitious and evil, others have that spark of good, and others are a little more complicated than that.  If you find out that you love both Divergent and Carve the Mark, you might also be interested in Marie Lu's Legend and Young Elites series.  I may review those at a later date, but those are similar books (Legend is a distopian YA novel set in future Los Angeles, the Young Elites is a YA novel set in a different universe).  I may review those at a later date.

Jan 17

Laurana and her Cat Lady BoxMy daughter LOVES cats.  Her birthday present last year was Kitiara the cat, who will appear in this review.

After approximately a 10-year hiatus, I started doing sweepstakes again.  I knew that I would be winning some prizes, but I was so surprised when I got an email from Deals Among Us, less than 2 weeks after I had entered my first sweepstakes, notifying me that I had won a Cat Lady Box!  This was right before Christmas, and we hadn't purchased any gifts for the kids yet.  I knew that my daughter would love this as a gift.  Even though I knew it wouldn't arrive by Christmas, I wrote a note and put it inside a Band-Aid box (giving Band-Aids for Christmas is sort of a joke in our family) telling her that once the Cat Lady Box arrived, it would be hers.

I knew that the Cat Lady Box had some great items in it, but I was kind of hoping that they'd be sending the January box instead of the December box, because I had seen a post by CatLady Box that made it look like there would be a Cat hoodie in the January box (there were some great looking gloves and a ring in the December box though).  I told my daughter that if she got the January box, that it would probably include that awesome hoodie, and I was correct.

I was sent the Crazy Cat Lady box (which includes goodies for your cat as well) which normally sells for $39.99.  There is a $34.99 option that only has items for the Cat Lady in your life.  Other then the hoodie, the items in the box included cat socks, cat bookmarks, a cat picture and two cat toys.

The cat really enjoyed the first cat toy that we got out of the box:

We realized that there were a couple more items in the Cat Lady Box as well:

Overall, my daughter loves her CatLady Box. They have great items for cat lovers in the box every month. While my daughter certainly does not have enough money to subscribe to the box, and we're not generous enough to buy it for her, we have definitely found something that would make her smile if we're looking for Christmas and/or birthday ideas for her and can't think of anything else to get her (outside of art supplies, she can be difficult to shop for). If you have a hard-to-shop-for Cat Lady in your life, I highly recommend this box.

Disclaimer: I received this product free as part of a sweepstakes sponsored by Catlady Box and hosted by the Deals Among Us blog.  I was not asked to review the product as a condition of winning the sweepstakes.  The opinions given here are those of mine, my daughter's and Kitiara the cat.

Jan 17

There are a lot of great (and not so great) web sites out there.  I'd like to share some of my favorites (and not so favorites sometimes) with you here some days.  Today I want to share one of my favorite language-learning sites, Duolingo.  It is a free program that features the adorable green owl, Duo.

I use Duolingo almost every day.  I currently have a 714 day streak on Duolingo (meaning that I've used it every day for 714 days... although there have been a few times that I used a 'streak freeze' to maintain the streak when I forgot to use it).  So I guess that it's proof that I really like this web site.

With Duolingo, you can learn a ton of different languages.  An English learner can choose from quite a few languages, including Spanish, French, Irish, Danish, Swedish, and more.  Volunteers are always adding new languages.  If you know other languages, there are other languages that you can learn.  I've done some of the German for Spanish speakers course, and you can literally feel your brain developing flexibility.

Duolingo has an app that you can use, which has all of it's courses except for the languages that are still in beta.  The app not only includes the main exercises (which involve a lot of translating and usually some speaking), but it also has recently added chatbots and clubs (where you can root on your friends as they learn the same language).  The chatbots allow you to have a conversation with a computer about various subjects, including holidays as they come up.  Duolingo seems to consistently be trying to improve itself to make language learning more effective.

Some of the sentences that you translate are silly, others are normal, and some are downright strange.  One of my favorite sentences in Duolingo is to translate from the German "Help, the horse is eating the holy potato!"  I found out that there actually is a 'holy potato' somewhere in Germany.  There is even a Reddit group where people post all the silly things that people find on Duolingo.

So what are the results?  Duolingo will not make you fluent in your language of choice, but it will help you learn the basics, which will help you move beyond the beginner classes.  Duolingo has helped me relearn my German and Russian and improve my Spanish abilities.  I've also been able to easily dabble in several other languages.  It's also excellent for reviewing.

There are some drawbacks.  Sometime translating sentences can get boring after a while, and the grammar covered in Duolingo isn't always completely explained.  Outside of that, Duolingo does work great as a first-year language program, especially for homeschoolers.  When combined with other language-learning techniques, it can really get you started on your language-learning journey.  It's also great to use as a review for languages that you already know.

I've recommended Duolingo to many of my friends, and even teach a class that uses Duolingo.  Try it out!  It's free, and you might like it.

Jan 17
One of the views from Colorado Springs

In Colorado Springs, you can sometimes see Air Force flybys, as pictured here, or visit Library 21C.

There are a lot of great places that you can visit in the world, and there are probably also a lot of really great places in your own backyard as well.

I'd like to review some of the places that you can visit sometimes.  I've lived in Colorado Springs for a little over two years now, and of course, I've lived in other places that you can visit, so on some Mondays, I'd like to review some of them.  If you don't live in these places, maybe they won't be interesting to you right now, but if you ever visit, then you can check out the review.

There's never a bad time to check out a book from the library.  There's always something to read.  Library 21C is probably my favorite library (we might as well start with the best, right?).

Library 21C's biggest strength is its technology.  They have tons of things that you wouldn't normally associate with the library of your childhood there.  You can find 3D printers (open to the public at certain hours if you take a class and learn how to use them), computers, gaming machines, and other technologies.  They teach classes on all sorts of technologically-related classes.  They even have fitness classes!  You can visit their web site for the latest details.

The library has quite a few meeting rooms that your group or organization can sign up for.  They range in size and some have different capabilities.  Many have whiteboards and large computer monitors.  You can also check out equipment to use when you are borrowing the meeting rooms, like dry erase markers and erasers.

The main downside of this library is that it doesn't have a LOT of books.  While there are areas with books for children, teens, and adults, a lot of the space that is often reserved for books in a library is packed with all this great technology.  Not to worry though: Library 21C is part of the Pike's Peak Library District, and you can have any of the books in this library system reserved and brought to this library for you to pick up.  You do have to think ahead if you want a book that's kept at a different library, but that's a small drawback for all the advantages that this library has.  You can always check out digital books at any time (without even leaving your house).  The library also has a nice variety of new books if you're interested in browsing newer releases.

So if you've moved to Colorado Springs recently or are here visiting and want to spend a relaxing day of reading, you might want to check out Library 21C.

Jan 17

American Patriot's BibleWe're about a week into the New Year, and I hope that if you have New Year's resolutions, that you haven't broken them yet.  If you have goals that you want to accomplish this year, I hope that you are on your way to achieving them.

One of the goals that I try to accomplish every year is to read through the Bible.  I like to start in Genesis in January and then read through to Revelation by the end of December.  I don't always succeed, but I have finished in the last couple of years.  Last year I read the Bible in Spanish (I'll probably review that Bible on a different date).  This year, I plan on reading the Bible in English again, using the American Patriot's Bible.

I've had this Bible for several years now, and have read through it a couple of times already.  This hardback version of the Bible has held up pretty well (as you can see, there's only some minor wear to the dust jacket).  I've packed it on vacations, have taken it places, and it's still holding up pretty well.

American Patriot's Bible (open)The version that I have is the New King James version of the Bible, but an old-school King James Version of the American Patriot's Bible is also available.  Everybody has their preferences, and some years, I've read different versions.  One year, I read the 1599 Geneva Bible (I may review that at a future date as well).  I find this version pretty easy to read (and if you're going to read about three chapters a day, you'll want something that you're willing to go back to every day).

The American Patriot's Bible has all the text of the New King James version of the Bible (or King James, if you get that edition), but it also has a lot of inserts and tidbits about how the Bible has played a part in American history.  I've found the stories to be pretty interesting.  There are a few sections that are in color that speak in-depth about a particular topic (like Christianity in Colonial America, pictured here).  While I may not read through all of these as I go through the Bible this time, I have read all of these sidebars before, and I have enjoyed them.

If you already have a Bible, it's not too late to read the Bible through this year.  I've actually gotten more than a month behind and have caught up by the end of the year!  There are many bible reading plans that you can choose from.  Some are short-term, others will take three years to go through the Bible (my church is doing a two-year plan, although I'm doing a one-year plan on my own again), and others let you go through the Bible at your own pace.  You can start where you are, or choose to catch up.  The main thing, if reading the Bible is a goal in your life, is to actually start.

The American Patriot's Bible is a good choice if you plan on reading through the Bible this year.  It is not the only choice, of course, but it will be the one that I will be using to read through the Bible in 2017.

Jan 17

We Can Be Mended, the Divergent EpilogueI'm a HUGE Divergent fan.  Veronica Roth could buy... something... with the money that I've spent on her products.  I own the entire series in English, the main trilogy in English and Spanish, and the first book in German and Russian as well.  I also have all of the movies that she's released so far.  Being the huge Veronica Roth fan that I am, I have, of course, already pre-ordered her new book, Carve the Mark (of course I will be reviewing it here).

Did you know that Veronica Roth has created an epilogue to the Divergent Series?  AND you can get it for free?  There's one catch though: you have to either buy Carve the Mark or pre-order it someplace.

I won an Amazon.com gift card in the last couple of days of last year, and I knew exactly what I would be spending it on: the new Veronica Roth book.  So I already have met the requirements to get this free book.  Yay!

So if you want to get the free We Can Be Mended book like me, you'll first have to pre-order the book.  You can get it by clicking on this lovely Carve The Mark link that leads you to Amazon.com (and if you do, I thank you for supporting this blog), or the Amazon.com picture to the right..

Once you pre-order the book, you'll want to follow the following link get the FREE We Can Be Mended Divergent epilogue.  You'll need to submit a digital picture of your receipt, along with your address and basic contact info.  That's it!

The free We Can Be Mended epilogue giveaway is sponsored by Epic Reads, which is a promotional service of Harper Collins Publishers.

Jan 17
$500 Amazon.com gift card

Win a $100 Amazon.com gift card

I have another Amazon.com gift card giveaway that you can enter.  This one is for $100.  You can use it for anything that Amazon.com sells (which is almost everything).

This giveaway is offered by The Giveaway Bandit, and it ends on January 17th.

Good luck!

Jan 17

US CurrencyWe're still less than a week into the New Year, and perhaps, if we made New Year's resolutions, we've already forgotten about them.  Or maybe we're keeping them.  At any rate, it's never the wrong time to think about improving our finances.  I'm sure that most of us can work in that area.

One of my favorite finance guys is Dave Ramsey.  He has a daily radio program, writes books, and has a Financial Peace University that goes through all the major aspects of household finance.  He focuses on getting out of debt, saving for emergencies and beyond, and then building up a nest egg.  He tells us to "live like no one else, so that later, you can live like no one else," that is, sacrifice today, so that later you will have a decent amount of money and you can give to others like no one else.

If 2017 is the year that you want to get your finances in order, you might want to consider reading Dave Ramsey's Complete Guide to Money.  It's the same book that they use in the Financial Peace University classes, and it covers almost everything that you need to know (although the hard part can sometimes be actually living the principals).

The book covers everything that you need to know about getting out of debt, building a savings, and even dealing with creditors, if you've gotten into trouble in the past.  It talks about getting a home, getting a bargain when you're shopping, and investing.  It also has all the forms that you'll need to use to get a budget started in the back of the book (although you'll probably end up using an Excel spreadsheet, since you'll want to do a budget every month).

If you're not familiar with Dave Ramsey, he suggests going though several different baby steps on your road to financial freedom:

  1. Put together a baby emergency fund of $1000 (in case something catastrophic comes up.
  2. Pay off all of your debts (with the exception of the house) from smallest to largest.
  3. Put 3 to 6 months of expenses into savings.  This is in case something catastrophic comes up, like a job loss.
  4. Invest 15% of your income into retirement.
  5. Save for your children's college.
  6. Pay off the house.
  7. Build wealth and give a lot of it away.

The farther along you go down these baby steps, the better it feels.  Sometimes, unfortunately, things happen and you can slide backwards (it's happened to me... we've had the baby emergency fund and then the emergency happens) but if you have don't have a plan, it's never going to get done by accident.

The Complete Guide to Money is well-written, easy to read, and if you live it, it really works.  The closer my husband and I live to this plan, the better we feel about what's going on financially.  It provides inspiration with little sidebars about people that have lived the plan and have succeeded.

If you're looking to win with money in 2017, and you haven't learned the basics of financial planning yet, I definitely recommend this book.

Jan 17
A box of 100 Finum tea bags

Finum Tea Bags

With the new year, a lot of us are trying to live a more healthier life.  Perhaps that involves drinking less bad things (like soda) and more good things (like tea).  I have to admit, I am a recovering Coca-cola addict.  I haven't had a soda since February 26, 2014 (that's over 1000 days)!  I drink mostly unsweetened iced tea and water now.  I started drinking loose-leaf iced tea in the fall of 2015 and have figured out how to make a gallon at a time to my liking.

So when my awesome parents bought me some tea in bags for Christmas, I had to figure out how to make it.  Loose-leaf tea is a little different than tea bags, in that the leaves in tea bags are generally smaller, and you can't exactly make it with my tea ball.  I know that I need to measure out 1/3 cup of tea in order to make a large pot of tea, but if I'm using tea bags, how do I know how many bags equal 1/3 cup?  Prior to finding loose-leaf tea, I could never figure out how to make it just right.

Enter large Finum Tea Bags.  I can't tell you whether they are better or worse than other tea bags, because I haven't tried any others, but I can tell you what my experience is.  These seemed to work out pretty well.

A Finum tea bag and normal sized one.

A Finum bag next to a regular tea bag.

These tea filters can hold a lot of tea.  As you can see, when compared to a normal size tea bag, these are ginormous.  When you're making a gallon of tea at a time (actually I measured the other day and it's closer to 5 liters) then you really need to have your tea filters hold a lot of tea.

So to try out these tea filters, I got out my tea, along with some of the tea that I got for Christmas.  I like to blend different flavors, and since I still have some Christmas tea and Candy Cane tea from Adagio.com, I decided to mix them with some Earl Gray tea.  The first step, of course, was to measure out the tea.

1/3 cup teaAfter I measured out the tea, I used a funnel to pour the tea into the tea filters.  I didn't want to spill any.  One of the chunks from the Candy Cane tea got stuck in the funnel, but I dislodged it and the rest poured into the bag quite nicely.

The entire 1/3 cup of tea fit into one tea bag; however, because I know that tea expands when you put it in water, and the bag was pretty full, I decided to use two tea bags, and there was plenty of room in both bags.

Because I had never used tea filters before, I didn't really know if they would stay closed.  For the purposes of this experiment, I decided to tie one bag shut (using the string from one of the tea bags that I was using, and fold the other bag over a couple of times.  Since I was going to put both bags into my tea ball anyway, it wouldn't really matter if the folded bag opened while the tea was brewing (other than the fact that some of the smaller tea leaves would escape through the mesh of my tea ball.

My tea ball in a pot of water.tea bags in a tea balltwo tea bags tied differentlyThen I put both bags into my tea ball, and I put the tea ball into my pot of (almost) boiling water.  This is how I will probably be making it at home most of the time.

After I finished making my tea, I checked the tea bags to see if either one of them had opened up.  Fortunately, both of them were closed.  I think when I make this tea in the future, I will probably just fold the bag over a couple of times.

There are a lot of good things about these tea filters.  You can fit a lot of tea in the bags.  Not only are these good for tea that you get from tea bags, but there are a lot of other fine teas (like Roobios) that would probably work better if you make it in these filters than in a mesh ball.  If you don't like the little bits of tea that end up in the bottom of your pot (or cup) when you make regular loose-leaf tea, then these would be helpful as well.

I can find one drawback for these tea filters.  There is no string at the top of the bag.  That isn't a problem for me, since I just put everything into my mesh filter anyway, but if you were making a big pot of tea, you might have to use a slotted spoon to fish the bag out.  Also, since I made my tea in my tea ball, I can't tell how the bags will react if you just put the bag in normally.

For the way I make tea, I would definitely get these again.  Since there are 100 filters in this package, and I won't need it for most of the tea that I make, even if I use two bags at a time, this package will last me a very long time.

Finum tea filters come in an extra large size (the size I bought was large) as well as some smaller sizes.