Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Black Friday Shopping Tips

Do you take part in Black Friday? When I was young, my mom always jump-started her Christmas shopping with an early morning trip to the mall the day after Thanksgiving. Sometimes, she stood out in the cold for hours, waiting in line for the stores to open. When my brother and I were older, we started going with her. Some years we had a plan, other years we just browsed the aisles to see what cheap goodies we could find.

Years later, when I started a relationship with Mr. Handsome, I discovered that his mother and sisters were dedicated Black Friday shoppers, and I began taking part in what has become a tradition. I can't say I enjoy venturing out into the dark and [usually very] cold at 4am, but it's definitely an adventure and a chance to make memories.

As you prepare for Black Friday, I have a few shopping tips to share. Feel free to add your own.

Black Friday Shopping Tips

1. Make a Game Plan
After the food coma has subsided and your Thanksgiving dinner guests have headed home, start looking through the store catalogs and planning your shopping excursion. Decide what stores you want to visit and in what order (based on what time they open and where they are located), and make a list of the items you are interested in. If you are hoping to pick up Christmas gifts, you'll want to make a list of all the people you need to buy for.

2. Beware of Electronics
When it comes to electronics, especially TVs, you'll want to remember the "buyer beware" mantra. Do the prices seem too good to be true? They might just be. Electronic stores are known for selling cheaper, lower quality brands and making you think you're getting something that's top of the line. They will also manufacture derivative models of more well-known brands. A derivative model is a stripped down, junkier version of a product that is usually only sold for a few days around Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Be sure to check model numbers, specs, and consumer reviews before buying an electronic item. If you look up a model number and don't find information online, there's a good chance it's a derivative model.

3. Bundle
When it comes to department/clothing stores, you'll often score additional savings if you combine coupons (found in catalogs or online) with store sales. Make sure to read the fine print, as some coupons are only valid on certain items.

4. Go With a Group
If you have a large list and are planning to hit up several stores, shopping with a few other people can be helpful. If you enter a store with a long checkout line, station someone in the line (perhaps someone who doesn't need anything from that particular store) while the rest of you shop.

5. Check Return Policies
On Cyber Monday, I'll often order a bunch of clothing items with plans to return the ones that don't work. (This tactic is especially easy if you can return online items to the store.) Last year, I ordered about eight pairs of jeans for Mr. Handsome, all at fabulous sale prices, and then returned the ones that didn't fit. Two years ago, I ordered several dresses and returned all but two. (If you're like Mr. Handsome and me, finding tasteful clothing that fits--especially jeans and dresses--is almost impossible, so we welcome online shopping.)

6. Exercise Caution
Over the years, I have made a few Black Friday clothing purchases that I later regretted. Let's be honest, trying on a bunch of clothes when you're tired, cold, and hungry isn't too appealing. Something that looks good at 5am might not have the same appeal when you're well rested. Just something to keep in mind while you shop, especially if it's an item you can't return.

7. Bring Snacks and Water
No explanation needed. A hungry shopper is a grumpy shopper.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Peacock Painting

It has been a while since I've shared one of Mr. Handsome's paintings. Earlier this year, I showed you the flamingo that he gave me for Valentine's Day, but I don't believe I have posted the peacock. He gained his inspiration from a picture of a peacock with its feathers spread out that I took as a child.

During a recent visit, my father-in-law saw the flamingo and peacock paintings and told us that those were his favorites of all Mr. Handsome's paintings. I was surprised, as I didn't peg him as a bird lover (I expected him to choose one of the ships or country scenes), but I'm thrilled to see him enjoying Mr. Handsome's art.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Chocolate-Covered Strawberry Cake, Part 2

A few weeks ago, I shared the super moist chocolate cake recipe that I used to make my recent chocolate-covered strawberry cake. As promised, here are the recipes for the chocolate glaze and strawberry buttercream frosting, as well as instructions for assembling the cake. I am usually a fairly healthy eater, but I am in no way claiming that this is a healthy cake. Everyone needs a treat now and then!

Chocolate Glaze

1-1/2 cup chocolate chips (I used semisweet)
6 Tablespoons butter
6 Tablespoons dark molasses

1. In a saucepan on low heat, melt chocolate chips (stirring constantly).
2. Add butter and molasses, and stir until smooth.
3. Remove from heat. Allow to cool 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent hardening.

Strawberry Buttercream Frosting

4 heaping cups frozen strawberries
3 sticks of butter (allow to soften at room temperature beforehand)
5 cups powdered sugar (also called confectioners' sugar/icing sugar), sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Blend frozen strawberries in a blender, and transfer to a saucepan. Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly, for 10 minutes.
2. Remove saucepan from heat, and allow strawberry puree to cool completely.
3. Using an electric mixer, beat butter until light and fluffy.
4. Beat 2 cups powdered sugar into butter until blended. Beat in strawberry puree, 2 Tablespoons at a time.
6. Beat in an additional 3 cups powdered sugar. Add vanilla, and beat on high until smooth.
7. Chill cake and frosting (not glaze) in fridge briefly before assembling cake.

Assembling the Cake...

Place 1st layer of cake on a plate/platter, crumb side up.
Cover with layer of strawberry frosting

2nd layer of cake (crumb side up)
2nd layer of strawberry frosting
3rd layer of cake (crumb side up)
3rd layer of strawberry frosting
4th layer of cake (crumb side up)
4th layer of frosting

After the 4th layer of cake has been added, feel free to do some piping on the edges to enhance the appearance of the cake. (I just cut a tiny piece off the corner of a small, Ziploc bag and filled it with strawberry frosting.)

Cover top of cake with chocolate glaze. I recommend moving very slowly with this step, using a spoon to gently drop glaze on top of the cake and let it run over the sides.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Movie Night Essentials

After a long week, what can be better than curling up on the couch with a good movie? In the Movie Night Checklist below, I list some of my favorite movies and movie night essentials. I would love to hear yours!

I have lots of favorite films and had a hard time deciding on just three. Facing the Giants is a flick that all ages can enjoy, but The Blind Side and The Lord of the Rings are not suitable for young children. I had never seen The Lord of the Rings until Mr. Handsome and I started working our way through the trilogy a few months ago, but they are some of Mr. Handsome's favorite movies, and I have really enjoyed them.

In today's society, finding wholesome movies is a challenge. If you're looking for family-friendly entertainment, check out PureFlix.com, a video-streaming service that provides content your family can trust. Pure Flix features more than 6,000 movies, documentaries, and TV shows that promote family values. Visit PureFlix.com for more information.

Whether you are a Pure Flix subscriber or not, you can take advantage of their holiday movie promotion. Starting November 26th through Christmas Eve, Pure Flix will offer one free Christmas movie every Sunday. Click here to be redirected to the page where you can sign up with your name and email. 

**This is not a sponsored post. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Our Last Day in the Rockies

I hope you all have enjoyed my posts about our trip to the Canadian Rocky Mountains. I have photos from one last mountain hiketo share.

After spending the night at the Miette Hot Springs Resort, we rose early on Day 7 to hike the 5-mile (8-km) Sulphur Skyline Trail, which begins at the Miette Hot Springs parking lot. The first few minutes were easy, but then the climb began, and we quickly realized that this hike was not for the faint of heart.

The trip to the top, an elevation gain of 2,300 feet (700 meters), took about 2.5 hours. I'll admit we had to stop for quite a few water breaks. The last 30 minutes were the most difficult, as the trail became quite steep and rocky. It was a rough journey, but the 360-degree view from the top was beyond incredible.

We spent about 30 minutes up there, eating a snack and soaking in our last day in the mountains.

The top is a gravely plateau, and the view from each side is different.

The trails we hiked on our trip gave us a wonderful "survey" of the Canadian Rockies. We saw a little bit of everything! Jasper National Park and Banff National Park have their own unique views, so we were grateful to be able to tour both.

The Sulphur Skyline Trail was the perfect end to a perfect trip.

And just when we thought the excitement was over, we were treated to one last surprise when we finished the hike. As we rested at the picnic tables near the parking lot and campground, a herd of female bighorn sheep arrived.

There were several other people in the immediate area, but these sheep had no fear. We didn't stalk of feed them, but we enjoyed watching them graze. (All my photos were taken using the zoom on my camera. We did not approach any of the sheep.)

If you look closely in this picture, you'll notice that one of the sheep has her head down, as she has just head-butted another.

Sheep are attracted to salt, so when one discovered a car that was covered in road salt, the rest of the herd rushed over, and they all began licking the car. It was certainly a sight to see. 

Wondering why the sheep are so rough looking? It's because they were in the process of shedding their winter coats.

If you wish to look back at my previous posts, here are all the links.

Canadian Rockies Day 1
Canadian Rockies Day 2
Canadian Rockies Day 3
Canadian Rockies Day 4
      Lake Louise
      Moraine Lake 
Canadian Rockies Day 5
      Icefields Parkway Part 1
      Athabasca Glacier
Canadian Rockies Day 6
     Icefields Parkway Part 2

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Cereal Anyone?

Have you ever walked down the cereal aisle and felt completely and utterly overwhelmed? There are dozens of options to choose from, and the last think you want to do is purchase an entire box and find out after the first bite that you don't like it.

This week, Kroger had their organic cereals on sale, so I decided to buy a few new ones. As expected, Mr. Handsome really enjoyed the cocoa bunnies.

I'm curious what your favorite cereal is? Mr. Handsome's is Cracklin' Oat Bran, but it's expensive, so we only have it on special occasions. I don't have a favorite, although I prefer cereals that are low in sugar. If you don't like cereal, how do you kick off your day?

Thursday, November 9, 2017

A Burglary and a Fiasco

I'm curious if any of you have security systems and what your experience has been with them. It used to be that only rich folks and those in unsafe areas had security systems, but with the advancement of technology, there are many affordable options on the market.

This week, we had a bit of a fiasco involving a security system. My brother-in-law recently bought a fixer-upper house, and he installed a security system.

While my brother-in-law was away on a camping trip, we received a call early in the morning from the security company, informing us that the alarm had gone off at the house. They sent police officers over and determined that someone had broken in, so they asked us to go over to the house to talk to the cops. We live a good bit away, but we loaded up in the car and drove over there.

The cops were very professional and kind, and they patiently waited at the house until we arrived, so we could look around and determine what had been taken. The TV was missing, as was my brother-in-law's computer. The officers had been in the area when they had received the call, so they had arrived at the front door quickly enough to see the burglar run out the back. Unfortunately, they weren't able to catch him.

So that was our positive security system experience. We hadn't quite understood why my brother-in-law had purchased it, especially since he doesn't have many valuables, but after that situation, we were glad.

The next day, however, we weren't so glad. At 5:00 in the morning, the same company called again and said that someone had "pressed the medical alert button." What is that supposed to mean? She asked if the homeowner had one of those buttons that the elderly and those with health problems wear around their necks in case of a fall or other medical situation. Seems to me like the security company should know the answer to that question...

We kindly informed her that my brother-in-law is young and in good health. Then they she told us that there is a similar button on the security system keypad that could trigger that alarm. At that point, we were sufficiently nervous. We explained that my brother-in-law was still out of town and that no one was supposed to be inside the house. 

To make a long story short, emergency personnel went over to the house to look for signs of robbery. They didn't go inside but said that everything looked fine from the outside, so they left. At that point, we were already wide awake, so we decided to drive over to double check that nothing had been stolen. 

It was still dark outside, and I was afraid that the burglar was perhaps hiding inside the house, so I kept watch in the yard while my brave, heroic husband entered the house and began checking every room (even the creepy, old basement) to make sure no one was inside and nothing was amiss.

Everything was fine and dandy, but that still doesn't explain how the medical alert button was pressed. We plan to suggest that my brother-in-law try a different security company.