Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Bookreview: Beyond Molasses Creek

This review is for the Kindle edition of  Beyond Molasses Creek by Nicole Seitz. 

Sunila, Alley's daughter, who got kidnapped and is living as a slave in Nepal.
The book is split up into many sections, each section dealing with one of the main characters at a particular place and time. This makes the book at times hard to read since the story jumps between chapters.

Overall, the book is well written, the characters are developed in depth by the author and the reader certainly can sympathize with the problems that all three characters face. I found myself rooting for all three of them to overcome their problems and find happiness. The book overall is engaging, sending a Christian message without sounding like a sermon and can be enjoyed by anyone from young adults to adults.

Disclaimer: This book was made available to me free of charge through in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed in this review are solely my own and have not been influenced by or any other third party.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Free Movie Ticket for Act of Valor - Facebook account required

If you like LifeLock on Facebook here, you will get an entry form that requires standard personal information (name, address, email and phone number). In exchange you will get a free movie ticket to see "Act of Valor " at any movie theater.
They do have limited supplies of tickets, so hurry to the LifeLock facebook page and sign up!

Rules for redeeming ticket here (pdf file)

Synopsis from
When a mission to recover a kidnapped CIA operative unexpectedly results in the discovery of an imminent, terrifying global threat, an elite team of highly trained Navy SEALs must immediately embark on a heart-stopping secret operation, the outcome of which will determine the fate of us all.

Read more about the movie at Wikipedia  here or go to the official homepage of the movie here

movie poster Act of Valor

National Pancake Day - Free short stack at your local IHOP

Durham, NC - - IHOP location: 1821 N Pointe Dr, Durham, NC

Tomorrow is National Pancake Day and in honor of that special day your local IHOP will give away a free short stack to each visitor. In return they ask for a donation on behalf of  Children's Miracle Network Hospitals and other designated local charities.

More about National Pancake Day from their website here:
Since beginning its National Pancake Day celebration in 2006, IHOP has raised nearly $8 million to support charities in the communities in which it operates. On February 28, 2012, guests from around the country are invited to celebrate National Pancake Day at IHOP and enjoy a free short stack of Buttermilk pancakes. 

From their website at

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Starbucks new blend - BLONDE - now you see it, now you don't!

Some of you may have seen the new BLONDE blend by Starbucks being rolled out in January, sampling events, sample giveaways, via being advertised in the BLONDE blend etc. I usually do not subscribe to blonde jokes, but the problems Starbucks faced with this blend are now reaching the level of a commercial disaster / joke. I personally tried the BLONDE blend early in January and really like it because it has a smooth flavor and it is a coffee I can drink without adding cream to it.

image obtained from here

Well, after using up my free refills for January, I ventured into a regular Starbucks again this week and wanted to treat myself to a freshly brewed cup of BLONDE. No success - turns out Starbucks has not been selling us properly brewed BLONDE in January. Not sure whether the C-level executives at Starbucks thought the coffee was too weak or too strong, but it turns out the spoon used by your barista to measure the BLONDE ground coffee for brewing in house is IMPROPERLY SIZED. Good heavens, I had no idea I could like a coffee that was not measured properly, after all, we all use properly sized spoons at home when brewing our coffee since we know that being short an ounce of ground coffee in a 8 cup brewer makes all the difference in the world (sarcasm oozing out of this last sentence).
I had several samples of the BLONDE blend throughout January, took a couple of sample bags home and used them at home, never realizing that I was drinking subpar Starbucks brew and my tastebuds for coffee are obviously severely compromised - the shame!
Anyway, if that was not strange enough, Starbucks will not be able to provide the correctly sized spoon for proper brewing of the BLONDE blend to their Starbucks stores until April! So if you want to finally taste the proper BLONDE blend brewed in house at Starbucks, either you need an invitation to their C-level executive events (hoping that they at least have access to the properly sized spoon) or you need to wait until April to get BLONDE freshly brewed at your Starbucks.
Meanwhile the question comes to mind, what to do with my remaining sample bag of BLONDE at home? Will Starbucks offer specially sized spoons for the home brewer so we can be sure to enjoy the properly brewed BLONDE blend at home or is this drama one more gimmick by Starbucks to convince us that any coffee needs to be purchased brewed in house at Starbucks to get the proper flavor?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Aldi special until this coming Tuesday: Atlanta Cheesecake Company Italian Mascarpone Torta

copyright Durhamonthecheap - packaging for the Mascarpone cake
I decided to splurge for the Saturday breakfast and bought a weekly special from Aldi, an Italian Mascarpone cake. The weekly specials for this week (from last Wednesday until this coming Tuesday) are listed here. The Mascarpone cake was somewhat pricey for the usual weekly specials at Aldi; for 8 pre-cut slices the cake cost $7.99 (for comparison, cheesecakes by the company are listed for online ordering at around $30 here). But again, weekend breakfasts are special and they are a nice, slow beginning to two days off work, so I decided to go and buy a special cake to go with some home-made offerings. It looked really good in the image and the description for Mascarpone cakes online sounded like a lighter version of the usual cheesecake.
Today, we had the cake and I am very impressed. The cake is a cheesecake-type flavor, with hints of lemon, covered by a light crumb crust that tastes like sweet butter. The Mascarpone cake is lighter than a traditional cheesecake and each of the slices is very filling. If you have kids, you may want to split a piece; the slices are really good size.
The pictures below show the actual cake that only needs defrosting for two hours at room-temperature (or overnight in the fridge) and then is easily packaged to put nicely on a serving plate. I included a picture of the packaging to show the company name. Aldi stores them in the freezer under weekly specials and because the price is somewhat high for the usual Aldi line of products, my store still had plenty left.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - the cake right out of the package
copyright Durhamonthecheap - you can see the various layers of the cake, especially the soft Mascarpone center
I can highly recommend the cake for a special occasion or for a nice coffee break with the family. Since it is a weekly special, Aldi may not offer it again for some time. So if you have the freezer space, go and buy one now. I was very impressed and will be sad to see the last piece disappear!

GIVEAWAY - TORANI syrup (max. value $8.00) - winner has been notified!

copyright Durhamonthecheap - coupon giveaway!
My first official giveaway. Everyone that knows me should know by now that I love free stuff, avoid spending money and still manage to treat myself to gourmet items. Now I am sharing one of the coupons that I receive throughout the year with my readers.

I have one coupon for a free TORANI syrup to give away to one of my US readers

- sorry, only entries within the USA - not sure whether stores outside the USA would accept the coupon and I hate to disappoint anyone!

TORANI syrups come in many different flavors and are a great addition to coffee, warm or cold milk or as an added treat to icrecream or other desserts. If you feel adventurous, you can also cook or bake with them. Add some TORANI coconut syrup to enhance the flavor of the simple yellow cake or add some TORANI raspberry syrup to liven up the chocolate brownie.

I noticed that my local Starbucks does not carry any Almond or Coconut syrup anymore, thankfully I stacked up on both flavors when a store had a sale on TORANI. I love to add the syrups to coffee and warm milk.

Entry guidelines:
Deadline is one week from now 3/3/12 11:59PM. - winner will be determined by random number (using this nifty little tool here) on Sunday 3/4/12

Up to three entries max per person.

One entry: You must follow the blog (this way I can contact you) and post a comment that you do so! 
Additional entry: if you are a member of, provide me with one K+ on any topic and post a comment on the blog (one additional entry max)
Additional entry: tweet about the giveaway using #durhamonthecheap and leave a comment on the blog (one additional entry max)

Disclaimer: I received a gift pack containing coupons for free TORANI syrup from in exchange for an honest review and blog posting. The opinions expressed in this blog are solely my own and have not been influenced by any third party.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Woolite Complete - works great on all kinds of clothes and fabrics

I had received a free bottle of Woolite Complete through smiley360 and today tried the detergent on a white comforter for the guest room. This comforter does not get used that much, but since it is always out and exposed to the AC or furnace running, it does collect dust. So I tried Woolite Complete to see whether the white would be nice and clean. I have added a picture below. The result is great, the comforter is nice and white (I added a green mini-stapler for contrast since I did not want to upload an all white image). I washed the comforter on warm/cold combination and then tumbled dry on warm.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - white comforter after Woolite Complete
I am impressed with the outcome.The white is bright and the detailed pattern of the comforter was not damaged in the wash. I will definitely consider Woolite Complete for other fabrics now, not just delicate fabrics.

You can download a $2 off coupon for Woolite here. You will need a Facebook account and share the video to receive your coupon.

Disclaimer: I received a free bottle of laundry detergent Woolite Complete from Smiley360 in collaboration with Woolite. Receiving any samples or other compensation in no way affects the opinions expressed on this blog. Opinions expressed on this blog are solely my own and have not been influenced by any third party, regardless of whether I received compensation in any form or not!

February 22nd - Walking you dog Day

Yes, it is an officially recognized day (but not a holiday) - although I would hope that every dog owner does not need a day to remind them that walking your dog goes along with owning a dog. I now live in North Carolina, which barely had any winter weather this year, so walking the dog may mean at the most putting up with some rain or wind. But I also owned a dog in Minnesota, when walking a dog meant walking a dog in minus temperatures and, owning a lab mix at the time, standing by the road, while the dog was jumping around in a snow covered field, expecting me to join him. So yes, walking a dog will be a chore at times, but too many dogs are simple kept in a fenced-in yard, while their owners get to roam around the city. Dogs love to roam too.

I am glad to see that many towns and cities now have dog parks. Durham is one of the cities that now has several dog parks. For a complete list of dog parks see here
The dog park in SW Durham is called Pineywood Park and is located at the intersection of Woodcroft Parkway and Woodlake Drive. The park consists of more than three acres of land and separate areas for large and small dogs, a time-out area and a program area.They also have water fountains available and benches.

So even if you do not have time to walk the dog because you are addicted to your Blackberry and have run into lampposts (yes, that happened to me until I left the iPhone at home), consider taking your dog to a dog park and letting it run around without a leash. Especially if you only own one dog, socializing is as important to dogs as it is to people.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - Floppy, the lab/collie mix from the shelter

Of course I have to include a picture of Floppy, a mutt adopted from a shelter. Even though it seems he needed to be in the picture and wanted to be the center of attention, it actually took some coaxing to get him to be in the picture. Coming from a shelter, his only home for more than two years, Floppy tried everything to please people. He was the most obedient, polite and "properly behaving" dog I have encountered. I actually had to encourage him to be a little bit on the wild side.

This brings me to the final point of this post, just like everyday should a walking your dog day (not just February 22nd), you should always consider adopting a dog from a local shelter when you are contemplating adding a dog to your household.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Alert Carolina - the complaints continue

Not too long ago I blogged a comparison of Alert Carolina and Hawk Alert, differentiating between the emergency notification systems used at UNC Chapel Hill and the University of Iowa. You can read the earlier post here. I commented on how the University of Iowa uses social networking such as Twitter and Facebook to keep people, not just students or staff at Iowa, but also anyone subscribed to their Twitter feed informed about emergency messages. I also mentioned that Alert Carolina had been receiving critical reviews from students - and wouldn't you know, we had another potential emergency situation at UNC Chapel Hill and students felt they were left out (again).
A rape occurred in an alley just off campus and like me, most students found first out about the rape through their local news, not Alert Carolina and not any other UNC newsmedia. Needless to say, students are not happy about this lack of notification. Some factors cited as possibly causing the delay in notifying students or the lack of Alert Carolina notifications are the fact that the report was not made to campus police, but the local police or that the rape did not occur on campus proper, but in an alley close to campus.

I remember the comments after 9/11 that CIA and FBI were not talking, otherwise the fact that the hijackers took flying lessons would have been discovered earlier ... - anyway, the difference on whether a crime is reported to campus police or local police makes very little difference as far as the safety of students and residents in the area is concerned. A rape occurred, the rapist was in the area and no one was notified.
The other reason for the lack of Alert Carolina notification  - the rape did not occur on campus property - makes even less sense to me. The rape occurred in an area near campus - close to enough to campus to alert students about the incident - instead it sounds as if police is trying to convince people that the rapist was not able to cross a street and get to campus.

I find it hard to believe that the University of Iowa can report an attempted robbery and then through Twitter and Facebook alert students and regular citizens in Iowa City about the route that suspect took as well as a description of the suspect. At the same time, in Chapel Hill people seem to be more concerned about which police station got the report and where the actual event took place. We are not talking New York City and  a 50 block distance, we are talking about downtown Chapel Hill, where a lot of people can conveniently bike to work because everything is so close to the University.
I understand that no one wants to create unnecessary panic, but Alert Carolina is there for a reason and recently the only way Alert Carolina makes news is for lack of action.
I think members of Project Dinah summed it up nicely as quoted in the Daily Tarheel: “We rely upon DPS to alert us immediately in any emergency, and we are frustrated to have learned about this event from outside media sources and not from our campus community." 

Ghirardelli Squares Milk and Truffle - they are DELICIOUS!

I had previously blogged about receiving a free bag of Ghirardelli Milk and Truffle squares, the new flavor by Ghirardelli. I usually prefer dark chocolate and my favorite flavor are the Raspberry squares, but I do have to admit that my preference for dark chocolate may be due to the fact that many other brands generate extremely sweet milk chocolate. Growing up in Germany, I used to eat milk chocolate regularly, usually Milka brand, but when I came to the USA I totally lost my appetite for milk chocolate and have almost exclusively switched to dark chocolate.
Well, Milk and Truffle Ghirardelli Squares are very good. They strike the perfect balance between the creamy chocolate truffle filling and the milk chocolate cover. They are not overly sweet and very, very creamy. Overall, I find that Ghirardelli has struck a nice balance between the creamy taste of milk chocolate and oozing goodness of a truffle filling. Will I totally move away from dark chocolate? No way! - I love my Raspberry squares too much to totally go without them. But I will definitely add some milk chocolate flavors from Ghirardelli to my mix.
copyright Durhamonthcheap - new flavor by Ghirardelli - Milk & Truffle!

Do not forget, this new Ghirardelli flavor is available at Target and Walgreens!

In case you are still in doubt and not convinced to give this flavor a try - a few of my colleagues also tried the chocolate and gave it a thumbs up!!

Disclaimer: I received a sample bag of the new Ghirardelli flavor courtesy of and Ghirardelli in exchange for an honest review on this blog. The opinions expressed on this blog are solely my own and have not been influenced by any third party or Any additional compensation I may receive has not and will not influence my opinion reflected in the blog entries.

Woolite Complete - it's not your mother's detergent anymore

Thanks to an opportunity from Smiley360, I received a free bottle of Woolite detergent. I do not know how others feel about Woolite, but I had always associated Woolite with delicate clothes. It never occurred to me to use Woolite as a general detergent for cotton and linen fabrics. Well, Woolite Complete (website is here) is different and can be used as laundry detergent for all kinds of clothing. On their website, Woolite states that Woolite Complete strikes the right balance between cleaning and caring. They go on to say that "it doesn't contain harsh ingredients, so it won't cause stretching, shrinking or fading."
I just received the package today, so I have not had time to test the detergent yet. But Woolite is a quality company and so I have faith that my clothes will be treated gently. If using Woolite Complete can extend the lifespan of my favorite sweater or jeans, that is certainly nothing that I will complain about.
Well laundry day is in my house on Saturday, so expect a review of Woolite Complete this weekend! And if you are working at UNC Chapel Hill, expect some coupons from me!

copyright Durhamonthecheap - Woolite Complete works for all kinds of clothing

copyright Durhamonthecheap - contents of my package from Smiley360 for the Woolite Complete campaign
 Disclaimer: I received a free bottle of laundry detergent Woolite Complete from Smiley360 in collaboration with Woolite. Receiving any samples or other compensation in no way affects the opinions expressed on this blog. Opinions expressed on this blog are solely my own and have not been influenced by any third party, regardless of whether I received compensation in any form or not!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Ghirardelli Squares Milk and Truffle - thanks

Today I received a box with a sample to try out - always a reason to celebrate in my house. But this sample was the best - free chocolate and specifically, free Ghirardelli squares. If I could put a smiley for a happy dance on this blog, I would do it now! and Ghirardelli have partnered up for a campaign to introduce a new flavor for Ghirardelli squares "Milk and Truffle" - described as milk chocolate, luscious filling. I can only imagine. I got a bag of squares as well as two coupons for $1 off. In case your mouth is watering as much I mine was when I saw the bag, the Ghirardelli Milk & Truffle squares are available at Target and Walgreens.
I have included a picture below of the content. The contents were nicely packaged with some tissue paper and you can see the wonderful sight of a still unopened bag of chocolate. I will savor some Milk & Truffle squares later this evening for dessert with a nice cup of coffee.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - Who can honestly say NO to Ghirardelli?

Disclaimer: I received a sample bag of the new Ghirardelli flavor courtesy of and Ghirardelli in exchange for an honest review on this blog. The opinions expressed on this blog are solely my own and have not been influenced by any third party or Any additional compensation I may receive has not and will not influence my opinion reflected in the blog entries.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Alert Carolina versus Hawk Alert - use of social networking sites

I usually have Twitter up during the day because people in my field of work seem to feel the need to tweet continuously about new discoveries and research papers. By chance, I also subscribed to news from my one of my old universities, the University of Iowa. Usually, the Iowa tweets tend to deal with athletes signing contracts, lawsuits involving the university and other news that is really more important to faithful and engaged alumni, among whom I do not count myself.
This afternoon, I all of a sudden saw three messages from Hawk Alert. Turns out they seemed to have a robbery near campus, in which a middle-aged man was threatening with a knife and demanded a phone. The messages provided a fairly detailed description of the suspect and his route off campus.
This got me thinking about the alert system at UNC-Chapel Hill. I do not live anywhere near the campus and also do not tend to hang out on campus after hours, so most emergencies are not relevant to me. But as a regular reader of the DTH (Daily Tarheel) I notice more complaints than compliments about Alert Carolina.
One of the more recent complaints listed in the DTH is here. The complaint dealt with a failure to notify the students as on campus residents about a violent crime on campus.
Similar to UNC-CH, Iowa also has the text message option and will not publicly post the phone number provided for the alert messages, ensuring that privacy requests by students are honored. But to the best of my knowledge (and I did check the Facebook pages listed for UNC-CH here), Alert Carolina does not provide the option to get alert messages through Facebook or Twitter. A quick search revealed that Hawk Alert (as does the Carolina Alert system for the University of South Carolina) alert subscribers through Facebook. I just received an update through Facebook at home that the Iowa suspect is still at large and the event is under investigation.
With so many students on Facebook and many teens moving to Twitter (see recent article here), it stands to reason that social networking could be used to supplement Alert Carolina. This would bring UNC-CH in line with other universities and may help alert additional people. How often do you turn off your cell phone while in class or at a meeting, but you still have your computer running to take notes or respond to email? Using social networking sites would also enable people, not directly enrolled at UNC-CH, such as parents or alumni to become aware of events on campus. Yes, I was not directly affected by the attempted robbery in Iowa City, but if I was a parent with a student at U-Iowa, I would feel better knowing that in case of an emergency, I could get updates through Facebook or Twitter rather than rely on the news every 30 minutes or trying to call a student or worse an Information Office that is most likely overloaded with phone calls.
Of course before we tackle Alert Carolina and Social Networking, the coverage in the DTH suggests that we need to first define when we actually issue an alert message. It seems that students and student journalists feel that UNC-CH has some catching up and learning to do.

Aldi produce on sale

As I mentioned earlier, one reason I am happy to see an Aldi in my neighborhood is the fact that Aldi does offer produce at very reasonable prices. Last week, strawberries were 99 cents / pd compared to 2/$4 on sale at another grocery store. If you go to and select their weekly ad, you can get a list of their produce on sale. This week, the following items are on sale:

Avocados , Qty: 1

49¢ EACH
February 1 - 7

Baby Carrots , Qty: 1

February 1 - 7

Celery , Qty: 1

February 1 - 7

Broccoli Crowns , Qty: 1

February 1 - 7

White Mushrooms , Qty: 1

February 1 - 7

Grape Tomatoes , Qty: 1