Thursday, October 31, 2013

bzzagent Product Review: Halloween TruMoo®

Through I received a coupon for a free container of Halloween TruMoo® as well as a number of coupons for 75 cents off a quart. TruMoo is available in two flavors, chocolate and vanilla. The vanilla flavor is new and just in time for Halloween, TruMoo decided to appropriately stain the vanilla milk in a seasonal orange!

copyright Durhamonthecheap - my bzzkit for TruMoo, note the Halloween recipe with orange-colored TruMoo!
I had to go to Walmart to redeem my coupon because neither Kroger nor Harris Teeter carried TruMoo. But no problem,  at Walmart I got the gallon chocolate milk, regularly priced for around $5, and we are thoroughly enjoying the wonderful flavor. Healthy, but tasty, is a wonderful combination and I soon discovered that I can make my own version of a seasonal chocolate milk at home. Walmart did not have the orange flavored vanilla milk and so in the mood for Fall, I decided to add some Pumpkin Spice creamer to the chocolate milk to make my own Pumpkin Spice drink at a fraction of the cost than at the coffee places, but equally enjoyable and probably more healthy as well. All that calcium does a body well.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - who needs coffeehouse prices. Pumpkin Spice chocolate milk means Fall!
And right now is the perfect time to sign up for TruMoo special offers on Fracebook because TruMoo has a sweepstakes going on for fantabulous prices.So head on over to TruMoo on Facebook here and sign up. Just for signing up, you get an instant Goosebumps DVD coupon.

Disclaimer: I received a coupon for a free product from in exchange for an honest review. The views expressed in the blog post are solely my own and have not been influenced by any third party. 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Book Review: This Is Your Captain Speaking: My Fantastic Voyage Through Hollywood, Faith & Life by Gavin McLeod and Mark Dagostino

We all know this author. Gavin McLeod has been an almost constant presence in our living rooms for decades. First as newsroom worker on the Mary Tyler Moore Show and then as Captain Stubing on the Love Boat. Few people know that Mr. McLeod has transformed the Love Boat stint into a long-term association with Princess Cruises, for which he acts as a global ambassador. He regularly attends cruises, speaking to passengers and signing autographs for his many fans.

In this book, Mr. McLeod shares his memories from his TV roles on the Mary Tyler Moor Show and the Love Boat, but also discusses his memories from other television and movie adventures that included such notables as Cary Grant, Steve McQueen and Gregory Peck. We get to know Gavin McLeod the movie actor that also starred in serious roles and freely acknowledges that he benefited a lot from the exposure with better known stars such as Peck and Grant. I think it is this humbleness that really makes Mr. McLeod such a likable character and makes you feel as if you are listening to a neighbor talking about his adventures in Hollywood.

McLeod also describes his upbringing, which was not glamorous at all, and this too helps the reader to connect to Gavin McLeod on a more personal level. The book also covers his life away from the theater, including personal issues that he dealt with, but also the joy he experiences when he attends another wedding and plays the proud father. This book really makes you feel part of his family and you can understand in the end, why Mr. McLeod feels that God is such an integral part of his life and why he is so intent on including God in this mission in life. Now with McLeod happily remarried again, after a divorce that proved a difficult time to McLeod, this book ends on a very optimistic note by McLeod, who feels very confident about his future.

I enjoyed this book. It is not that overtly Christian, although his belief in God is explicitly mentioned throughout the book. I did not feel that this book read like a sermon, but McLeod makes no apologies for his belief (and he should not have to). If you are looking for a book to learn more about one of the main TV stars from the 60s and 70s, this book is an interesting read. I found the private person Gavin McLeod to be quite charming and someone that could fit into my neighborhood, without looking like a Hollywood transplant.

Disclaimer: I was provided this book for free through in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed in this review are solely my own and have not been influenced by any third party.

Product sampling: Crowdtap - StarKist Tuna Creations in Ranch Flavor

Through I received a free sample of StarKist Tuna Creations in Ranch flavor and could not wait to try out this new kind of Tuna in a pouch. This packaging is perfect to take to work for lunch because it does not need to be cooled and it is conveniently limited to one serving at less than 100 calories.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - wonderful mixed salad, made better with StarKist Tuna in Ranch flavor!
 I could not wait to try out the Ranch flavored Tuna and so I bought a large bag of simple mixed lettuce with just some carrots and cabbage slivers in it. Then I went to the salad bar at Harris Teeter and added some additional toppings, such as bell peppers, corn salsa, mushrooms, and radishes. These toppings created some additional texture and flavor. Last, I added the centerpiece of the meal, the StarKist Tuna Creations in Ranch. The pouch may look small, but it is tightly packed and adds a good amount of protein to the meal.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - Yes, it was that good. Loved the lightly flavored Tuna on my mixed salad
copyright Durhamonthecheap - Tuna Creations come in many different flavors. I have high recommend Ranch!
 I did not take me long to finish the salad and I loved every bite of it. The Tuna is flaky and not oily at all. The Ranch flavor is light and not overpowering. So my salad was a wonderful combination of tuna in Ranch flavor and the flavors and textures of the salad. Since I usually just add oil and vinegar to my salad, the light flavor of the Tuna did not overpower the flavor of the peppers, radishes and the mushrooms. The corn salsa and quinoa salad were still packing a nice flavor punch despite the many different ingredients. I really felt as if I was eating a restaurant salad and with the tuna added, the salad turned into a filling, satisfying meal.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - Tuna is a very healthy protein that turns a salad into a complete meal!
Disclosure: I received a free pouch of StarKist Tuna Creations in Ranch flavor in exchange for a sampling and an honest review. The views expressed on this blog are solely my own and have not been influenced by Starkist, Crowdtap or any third party.

Harris Teeter clearance special - HT Fruit Parfait for 50 cents! (YMMV)

I found an awesome deal this morning at the Harris Teeter intersection 55/54 in South Durham. They had the parfait, made fresh in the local Harris teeter stores, on clearance for 50 cents. They are basically yogurt with either apple cinnamon or fresh strawberries added in. In a separate layer, sealed from the rest, is some granola that you add to the mix yourself. They were on sale this week at 2 for $5.00, but several at this local HT store had a $2off coupon attached, bringing the price down to 50 cents.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - berry fruit parfait with Nature Valley Granola for 50cents at Harris Teeter!

I selected the berry flavored parfaits and they are great. They had fresh strawberries in them and with the granola it is a nice crunchy snack that can even make a light lunch with only 210 calories per serving. So if you are on your way to Harris Teeter in South Durham, keep an eye out for the parfaits and maybe you too can pick up a few on clearance!

Late October in North Carolina - time to winterize the bedroom!

copyright Durhamonthecheap - warm sheets and plenty of blankets, we are ready for the winter!
So we did have our first frost warning this week. Much to my dismay I realize this time of year that although North Carolina is considered "The South", it is not far enough south to be considered tropical and evade any kind of winter weather. So this weekend, winterizing the bedroom was on the schedule. This meant, replacing all the light summer sheets and getting the flannel out to make sure that we are nice and cozy at night.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - fleece and down everywhere
But besides getting the beds ready with warm blankets, we also prepare the windows with extra insulation. You can buy simple insulation strips at Lowes or Home Depot. These strips are glued around the window and stop any leaks from burning a hole in your pocket by needing extra heat. We also have plenty of fleece blankets around the house, electric fireplaces in two main living rooms and a wood-burning fireplace in the living room.
Here is an example of the weather strips, very easy to apply and they last all winter, sealing the windows to prevent air leakage.
available at Lowes here
 We also had some solar panels installed and a high efficiency furnace put in last year; both of which will cut down on heating expenses throughout the winter. So now all ready for the winter, we do not need to fear snow or ice because the scene below is also North Carolina in the winter. BRRRR!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Dessert Review: Nantucket Grill Chapel Hill NC

Normally I post food reviews, but this time I just want to focus on dessert. In part because the actual main dish, Crab Cake Sandwich (a lunch special), was just okay. But the dessert was phenomenal - a huge, humongous, extraordinarily big piece of Tiramisu cake. I love Tiramisu and when I walked in the Nantucket Grill on the corner of Hwy 40 and 54 I could not believe my eyes when I saw the size of the cakes at this place.

Skyscraper like height is certainly appropriate. Each cake has 8 layers of cake mixed with creme and other fillings.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - a piece of cake fit in size for family dessert, four people can share this!
In the image above you see the size of this cake slice. The flavor was excellent, each layer was drizzled with coffee and the creme in between the layers was rich, but not cloyingly sweet or fat. Yet despite the excellent flavor, the size of the slice of cake is just so big that you need several people to tackle the piece in one sitting or alternatively, if you are like me and you really want your fill of Tiramisu, you can keep eating away at the one piece four times. I opted for the second solution and enjoyed the cake Friday and Saturday as dessert for lunch and dinner. Now I definitely have my fill of Tiramisu for a while.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - Tiramisu chapter 4, the final installment and the cake stars in another webpost!
So Nantucket Grill Tiramisu cake gets two thumbs up from me. This cake is definitely worth a visit to the place. You can get the cake to go and right now they have an Anniversary special which gives you a free 1/2 slice of cake when you order entree in the evening. Like I said, I was not too impressed with my lunch selection of a crab cake sandwich. The flavor just was not there. Fries were good, but I can get similar fries a lot cheaper at other places and while the crab cake was good size, there was not a lot of crab flavor. Plus the roll was almost immediately soaked through when I put the tomatoes and red onions on the bun. This is not good since I like my sandwiches with a nice, solid bun so that the sandwich has some bite!

Movie Review: Free Preview of Last Vegas - Timberlyne 6 Chapel Hill, NC

I got access to free passes to a preview event for the CBS Films distributed movie "Last Vegas" starring a strong cast with Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, Robert De Niro and Kevin Kline. Also starring are Mary Steenburgen as the love interest for the "mature" men in the movie and Jerry Ferrara as well as Romany Malco. The movie will be released  November 1, 2013 and is rated PG-13 for sexual content and language.

The movie starts off by showing us how the four main characters were as teenagers in New York City, then fast forwards 50+ years to the present time and the occasion that Michael Douglas' character proposes to his much younger girlfriend and now plans to get married in Las Vegas, which provides an opportunity for the old gang to reunite in Sin City for a wild bachelor party.

Things of course do not turn out as intended, but the movie overall provides a lot of jokes about men at an advanced age, the acting is very good and the story is almost believable, if at times also very predictable.

I think in general the preview audience really liked the movie, lots of laughter at many of the scenes and no one left the movie early! But kidding aside, despite some scenes that were not first rate from the screenplay, the actors really make this movie and with a cast including four really experienced and very good actors, some weaknesses in the screenplay are easily overlooked. I would give this movie 4.5 out of 5 stars and will actually watch it again when it comes out on DVD. Love it!

If you want some free passes to movie previews, check out and sign up for movies in your area. I usually get about 5+ movies a years for the Triangle area in North Carolina and you can print out two passes for each event.

Goodies Company or Another subscription service bites the dust!

Earlier this week and totally out of the blue, I received an email letting me know that Goodies Company would ship the October Goodies box and that would be it - no more subscription boxes from Goodies Company, a subsidiary of Walmart. I mention the Walmart connection because you would think that with this much money behind it, Goodies Company would be stable. Yes, granted that the boxes were relatively cheap for only $7 a box, but the contents were a lot of samples and the intent was to introduce more healthy and expensive items to Walmart customers. The hope was that people would then order the items full-size from the website, which I did a few times. The prices on the website were reasonable, often cheaper than and I got introduced to several really unique and nice products that I will serve to my family on holidays and family dinners. I loved their chipotle sauces with Mango or Raspberry. The fruity and peppery taste of the sauce was great for dipping or to simply put in crackers. They also introduced me to Biscoff spread, which I like much better than Nutella. And do not even get me started on the chocolate from my chocolate box that I won for submitting a food-centric picture.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - one of the Goodies boxes that I received earlier in 2013
So the concept of Goodies should have worked, but after Cravebox, we now have another subscription box that is creasing business. There are still plenty of boxes around, but you start to wonder why subscription services seem to go out of business. Is it the business model? Assembling a box of products and sending it to consumers at reasonable rates to boost business for the companies whose products are included. I would think that this model should work, but then I do not know at what discounts Goodies Company got the products that they included. I would think they got the products at a decent discount since the boxes were basically free advertising for the products of the companies included.

So what now? I have $7 each month that I can spend on a treat for myself. So maybe some milk shakes at Cick-fil-a are in order since they company will continue to exist and maybe I find another subscription box service at some point in the future. I will definitely miss Goodies Company, but $7 each month to have available as extra spending money is kind of nice as well!

Truvia: new artifical sweetener - ideal for a sweet morning coffee without the guilt!

Through Crowdtap, I got to sample Truvia. But not just sample, I will also host a brunch with Truvia. For this brunch, I will make some banana bread, possibly muffins and then serve Folgers coffee. I was provided with some Folgers Vanilla Biscotti and some sugar free Smuckers Jam. I cannot wait to sample the low calorie baked goods. It is like enjoying dessert without the guilt! Perfect for me and the colleagues at work.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - Truvia Party kit has arrived
I could not believe all the goods I got from Crowdtap for Truvia. This party will be fantastic!
copyright Durhamonthecheap - look at the loot from Crowdtap and Truvia for the sampling party!
In the kit I got the following:
  •  1 package of Truvía® Baking Blend
  •  2 40-count package of Truvía® packets
  •  2 80- count package of Truvía® packets
  •  2 Package of Truvía® spoonable
  •  Folgers Gourmet Selections Vanilla Biscotti Ground Coffee
  •  Smucker’s Sugar Free Strawberry Preserves with Truvía®
  •  1 Truvía® Brand “I love you when you’re not cranky” mug
  •  Truvía® brand kitchen gear
  •  1 Brunch Party Insert 
Love everything included. The T-shirt and spoon will make great party decorations and the mug I will use to sample the Truvia-sweetened coffee. My party will not take place until later this week since I must bake the bread and muffins first. But for now I can sample Truvia in my coffee and that is just what I did!
copyright Durhamonthecheap - Tiramisu is usually a diet buster, but Truvia to the rescue to sweeten the coffee!
 I had some Tiramisu from Nantucket Cafe and Grill. This cake is awesome, but the calories! I still wanted some sweet coffee to go with the Tiramisu and so I used Truvia. The coffee turned out nice and sweet, but no calories were added and more importantly, Truvia is all natural!
copyright Durhamonthecheap - add some Truvia to sweeten the coffee without adding calories!
I simply added a packet of Truvia, the new all natural sweetener, to sweeten the coffee; this did not add any calories, but the coffee tasted as if I had added a packet of sugar. Truvia is extracted from the leaves of the Stevia plant. The leaves are steeped similar to tea and the resulting liquid is purified and concentrated to generate the crystals that make up Truvia. You can read more about Truvia, the Stevia plant and how to use to Truvia here. I like Truvia. It is all natural and sweetens the coffee just like sugar. I have not felt any negative effects after using Truvia, even though someone indicated that they retain more water than usual.

I will be hosting my Truvia party soon and then more of my colleagues can enjoy Truvia and see how they like it. So keep your eye on this blog for follow up reports!

Disclaimer: I received samples of Truvia to share and in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed in this blog are solely my own and have not been influenced by Crowdtap or any third party.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Freebie - Dawn Shopping bag and it is so cute!

Today I received a freebie that took me some time to get. Dawn had a giveaway of shopping bags and you had to log in at random times, whenever the site went live, and complete your submission form in time to win a bag. Now I do have plenty of shopping bags, but I also thought that the design of this bag was particularly cute. So I had to get it!
copyright Durhamonthecheap - love the cute duckling on the bag!
Is the duckling on the bag not just totally adorable? I love the bag, which is nice and sturdy, mostly because of the design. I used to live near a river, where each spring I used to spend many an hour in the evening feeding the ducklings and so when I saw this design, I just had to get this bag! I will probably wait until I am through with most of the other bags that I have before I will touch this treasure.

Have you gotten a particular freebie that you just feel in love with? Put it in the comments. Thanks!

Kroger coupons - Kroger is not just about Freebie Friday

Kroger had their Freebie Friday again and we all got some Free Fruitwater to enjoy! But I got another gift from Kroger this weekend, a nice coupon insert (coupons are valid until 2014) and also some recipes.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - recipes and high value coupons that are valid until late 2014!
I love the coupons. Not only are they high value, such as $1 or $2 off Kroger housebrand items. But the coupons also have an expiration in late 2014. So I do not need to go and rush to the grocery store to spend money, but I can wait until our grocery shopping holiday is up (end of October) and then go shopping for some meat and perishable items, such as salad and vegetables! Perfect timing that the coupons arrived this week.

For my readers in other parts of the countries I have a question. What perks do your grocery stores have? Just the usual coupons for money off or maybe a rewards catalog, in which you can get items for points? Let me know what perks you enjoy or if you have an idea for a great rewards program, put it in the comments.


bzzcampaign: Kroger Home Sense products - all you need to get the house ready for the Holidays

I received a bunch of coupons for 20% off through bzzagent. I was supposed to get some free coupons too, but for some reason they were left out of the envelope. So I am not waiting on a response from bzzagent, who I contacted today by email about the missing coupons. The life of a couponer and blogger is never easy! But I am determined to save money and make sure I get complete bzzkits mailed to me.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - the bzzkit with coupons to share and the guide on the products!

copyright Durhamonthecheap - the bzzguide with information on the products included!

copyright Durhamonthecheap - the bzzguide shows what you can do with the products!
I am particular excited about the Disinfecting Wipes since I use these daily and I am also looking forward to the Fabric Refresher Spray since I like my clothes smelling fresh and do not do laundry often enough to maintain the strong softener smell on them. But any laundry item is good and welcome since laundry items are getting so expensive these day. I will probably use some of my 20% off coupons to buy some items for myself, but I am hoping that bzzagent will do the right thing and send me the missing coupons for the free items.

Disclaimer: I received coupons for 20% off through bzzagent in exchange for word of mouth advertising of the Kroger products. The opinions expressed on this blog are solely my own and have not been influenced by bzzagent or any third party. Twitter Party Prize: coupons for free Alpina Greek yogurt

I finally won a prize at a Twitter Party. After having attended my share of Twitter parties I finally won something - 3 coupons for free Alpina Greek yogurt.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - three coupons for a new variety of Greek yogurt to sample
Since I have never sampled Alpina Greek yogurt, I had to go to their website and check out what flavors they have. Besides Greek yogurt, they have smoothies and coffee beverages as well as regular yogurt and the newest addition, Greek yogurt topped with artisan granola. I won three coupons for their granola-topped Greek yogurt. So what flavors do they offer here? Some very nice flavors, if you ask me.

What I love about the Mango and Strawberry varieties of Artisan Granola-topped Greek yogurt is that the Granola is selected based on how it complements the yogurt flavor. The mango variety is topped with Crunchy Tropical Chia Granola, which is made from banana chips, coconut, and cashews. By contrast the strawberry yogurt is topped with Almond Berry Granola consisting of almonds and freeze dried strawberries.
This means that each yogurt is perfectly combined with a suitable granola. Since I just got the coupons in today's mail, I will have to wait until next week to shop for these varieties.

Alpina yogurt is locally available at Food Lion stores throughout the Triangle area.

Disclaimer: I received these coupons as a win through a Twitter party sponsored by The opinions expressed in this blog are solely my own and have not been influenced by or any third party.

Another Employee Appreciation Day at UNC-Chapel Hill - 2013

Yesterday, on a beautiful Fall day in Chapel Hill, it was time again for Employee Appreciation Day. Unfortunately I was really busy at work and could just go and grab lunch, but not stick around for much else.

As you can see from the image below, they had some nice goodies this year. We got another backpack and a nice waterbottle. Then besides lunch, we got bagged popcorn (already eaten since I had to stay late at work) and some cotton candy.  I also picked up plenty of pens and clips. I bypassed notepads and pencils since I have plenty of these already. But got a bottle of Gatorade and some pretzels. They also had, and this I really liked, a pack of notecards that are blank inside and that you can use for all kinds of purposes.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - the goodie haul from the Employee Appreciation Day
I could not play any of the games, but they had Plinko again and several spin the wheels. They also had a booth where you could play dress up with wigs and hats and have your picture taken. But I did enjoy lunch. This year they had burgers, vegetarian hot dogs, BBQ pork, chicken fingers (they were really good with some honey mustard) and then as sides baked beans, mac and cheese (absolutely disgusting), pasta salad with fresh vegetables (meaning fresh out of the can) and then as dessert brownies and cookies, neither of which I sampled. I hate to be talking so down on the sides but even the tomatoes on the pasta salad were diced out of a can, with the juice staining the pasta red. Some sad canned peas were joining the club of what UNC was trying to pass a fresh vegetables. I have had a garden this year with tomatoes and peppers and so I do know what fresh vegetables are like and I hope that UNC, which is trying to stress healthy living, can improve on what they sell as fresh vegetables. They did have some fresh fruit and so I grabbed an orange instead of the offered dessert and also opted for the pretzels instead of the chips.

Chatterbox from House Party: Product Review - B-Daman Break Bomber Battlefield Set

Chatterbox is a new program launched by House Party. Many people express their disappointment when they do not get selected for House Party boxes, so now you have a second chance by applying for Chatterbox. Sometimes Chatterbox is a product not offered through House Party, at other times it is the same product, but you do not have to throw a whole party. For Chatterbox you can just have your kids and their friends try out a toy or prepare some food for your family and maybe a couple of guests. It is a lot less prep work, but you still get to try out a new product and can ask your family, friends and neighbors to come over and participate as well.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - my Chatterbox B-Damon package with instruction and game!
I got selected for the Chatterbox program this month for the first time and today came a big box, the B-Daman Break Bomber Battlefield Set had arrived! It is an interesting action toy for kids 6 years and up. The goal is to break down a barrier with marbles that are shot from a couple of figurines. If you can break down the barrier and land some special red colored blocks in your opponent's territory you win. The game was invented in Japan, where it was a big hit until a few years ago Hasbro brought it to the USA. In Japan they have comics modeled after B-Daman as well as TV cartoon shows.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - goal of the game, besides having fun, get the red blocks to your opponent!
The game looks like a lot of fun and the setup is very easy. You simply connect the various pieces to form the battlefield and then use your two figurines to shoot marbles. You need special marbles to make sure they fit the toys. But then the games is really easy, Shoot marbles at the barrier and see who can get the most red blocks into the opponent's territory. If you want to change things up, you can buy extra figurines. But we are happy with the two we got and they are sturdy. This feature is really important if we are talking a marble-shooting bonanza for little boys! Some people commented online about the parts breaking easy and we initially got one figure that was broken, but Hasbro and House Party were great and sent a replacement game. The game also includes a "tool" to adjust the figures for customization, but you may also need the tool to adjust the figures when they get loose parts and won't shoot the marbles anymore - this can happen because boys tend to go a little bit crazy when it comes to marble shooting.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - here you can see the set-up of the game, very nice instructions!
Disclaimer: I received a free game to try out and review through Hasbro and House Party. All opinions expressed in the blog are solely my own and have not been influenced by any third party.

Book review: The Butterfly Sister by Amy Gail Hansen

This is a debut novel by Amy Hansen that combines mystery with romance and women’s literature. I throw in the women’s literature aspect because the conclusion of the book and the event that set off the story described in this book caused me to evaluate how women are still perceived by society and often see themselves. Even if you are not that interested in that specific subject matter, the book is a nice vacation read that can simply be enjoyed as a mystery novel and a well written one at that! 

The events that are described span several decades, with the majority playing in the present, but the past is needed to explain why things happen now. Ruby, the protagonist of the story, dropped out of Tarble College shortly before her graduation over a bad love affair. She is still suffering the effects of that experience, seeking regular counseling and her behavior still concerns her mother, who fears her daughter will sink into serious depression. While this story may sound like a downer, the overall book is very life affirming and we can see Ruby overcome the depression and recognizing her own strength as an individual as the story develops. 

What starts innocently enough as a suitcase belonging to another Tarble alumnus dropped off at Ruby’s place because Ruby borrowed it once and it still has Ruby’s name and address on it, develops into a much darker story that shows how the persistence of revenge can seriously damage people. The owner of the suitcase, Beth, has gone missing and even though Ruby was not close to Beth, she feels that she has to determine what happened to Beth. In part, Ruby feels close to Beth since inside the suitcase was a book by Virginia Woolf that Ruby blames for her depression. While Beth’s mother sees the suitcase as a sign that her daughter is reaching out to her, Ruby is determined to visit Tarble and revisit her own demons because the book to her is a clear message that she needs to visit the past to have a chance at a future.

Book review: The Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig

I thoroughly enjoyed this book because it was a mystery, but artfully written and the author receives high marks for style from me. It starts off with Clemmie, a young layer in a New York law firm, and describes her current life, which is totally focused on making partner and has no room for surprises or other interests. When her grandmother Addie celebrates her 99th birthday, it turns out that there is a secret that has been well hidden, but is now coming out. The family secret is what happened to Addie’s cousin Bea? Bea disappeared a long time ago in Kenya. And while there was at least one person believing to have seen Bea after her disappearance, the presumption is that Bea is dead, eating by the wild animals of the African jungle. 

The remainder of the book follows the story of Clemmie and her attempt to solve the mystery surrounding Bea. The author does that by switching back and forth between Addie’s story and Clemmie’s attempts to determine Bea’s fate. While it takes some time getting used to constantly switching between eras, continents and protagonists, these parallel stories work well. In part the arrangement of the story makes sense since Clemmie’s search for Bea’s fate goes along side the reader learning about the real Addie. 

What makes this book special to me is the realistic description of British society around World War I. The societal changes brought about by the war, the attempt by the aristocracy to hold on to their pre-war status and eventually it all falls to pieces in the African jungle. There is a reference to Downton Abbey by one of the reviewers of this book and I can see similarities in how detailed societal changes are described. I would still not go as far as to say that if you like Downton Abbey you will love this book because a good part of the story plays in modern times and focuses on Clemmie and her life and hopes. That being said, the author is a first rated storyteller that made this book a fun read, mysterious and exciting, but also smooth like a good martini.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Kroger Freebie Friday - back this week

Yes, we missed it last Friday. But Kroger has assured us that Freebie Friday will be back this week! If you have not linked your Kroger card to an online account, do so now. Freebie Friday is a great way to try out new products!

Belgium and Euthanasia laws - what are your thoughts?

Don't ask me how I ended up on this topic, but I ended up fact-checking an alleged ridiciously high percentage of euthanasia cases in Belgium and came across a couple of interesting euthanasia cases in Belgium.

Belgium does allow euthanasia for terminal illnesses and now also psychological suffering. I was aware of the terminal illness, but was surprised about the psychological suffering. I came across this aspect of euthanasia aspect by chance. It seems that Nathan Verhelst chose euthanasia after his gender reassignment surgeries failed. Belgium now has around 2000 deaths by euthanasia each year (1% of all deaths). Another case that gained headlines were two brothers that were born deaf and suffered from an incurable disease. They chose euthanasia when they started going blind. 

from Huffington Post here. Deaf Belgian twins euthanized after starting to turn blind.

I do not want to diminish the effect of psychological suffering. But unlike terminal illness, psychological suffering has more of a grey area. In the cases cited in the article, all parties opted for euthanasia out of their own will and there no suspicion that anyone got unduly influenced in this decision. I am still concerned that especially in cases of psychological suffering the environment may be a significant factor in inducing or contributing to the suffering. We hear a lot about cyberbullying these days. What if the consequences of cyberbullying are so severe that people elect euthanasia. There have been way too many cases of young people committing suicide due to constant and egregious cyberbullying. If euthanasia were to become an option, and under the Belgium definition it may soon, are not we as a society then making it too easy for us to get rid of victims rather than attempt to cure our own evil(doing)s.

To me the subject of euthanasia is interesting on a variety of levels. But one concern that I have always had is where will society draw the line? Are we started already on the slippery slope of allowing psychological suffering as a reason for euthanasia? But who are we to judge when suffering, of any kind, is too much?

What are your thoughts?


Book Review: Assaulted Pretzel by Laura Bradford

Murder does make the village of Heavenly not quite seem so deserving of its name. Located in the center of Amish country, Heavenly is inhabited by Amish and non-Amish citizens. Among them lives Claire Weatherly, who was enticed to move to Heavenly by her aunt. Claire now runs the local gift shop and, besides getting used to running a business, she also faces some personal issues. Chief amongst her distractions is the issue of two very much desirable men in her life. One of them, Jakob Fisher, had left the Amish life for a while, but now is back in Heavenly as the detective. The second man is a traditional Amish man, Benjamin Miller, Heavenly born and raised. 

Just like Claire has to deal with the friction that can occur when traditional and modern lives interact in her personal life, so does the town of heavenly have to struggle with the culture clash. And the town is really set to make a jump to the modern age, when Rob Karble, a successful toy producer, proposes a new line of Amish-manufactured toys and the citizens see some financial benefit for themselves as future employees of Karble. But the deal does not quite hold true to the original proposal and being upset with Karble about being cheated out of the much needed income leads one person to take drastic steps. Karble is murdered and the question now is whether the killer is to be found among the Amish or the English.

And while Claire and Detective Fisher in the end find the killer, the ending is nevertheless not the big relief that one usually expects and does leave some bad aftertaste in my mouth. This is not because I hated the ending, but it is one of the rare occasions where one almost feels sorry for the murderer. Overall, this is a nice cozy mystery, in which in my opinion the mystery angle is clearly stronger than the romance angle. I like this book and it made a nice rainy weekend reading.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Book Review: Gentleman Bootlegger - The Story of Frank GATT Paperback by Jewelli Delay and Robert Robinson

I was contacted by the publisher Inkwater Press about reviewing this book. I have been to Seattle, WA a couple of times for conferences, but never really lived in that region. For some reason though, the Pacific Northwest has always appealed to me because people seem relaxed and enjoy life, despite or maybe because of the often rainy weather they have there! I agreed to review the book because it also includes coverage of an era that has always interested me, The Age of Prohibition. During the Prohibition a lot of people got very rich very fast, not always legal of course. But nevertheless, Prohibition was a uniquely American experience and maybe because of that, the times have always interested me.

So who was the Gentleman Bootlegger? Frank Gatt was the Great Grandfather of the author and he was a character. I would almost describe him as larger than life. An Italian, growing up in the Italian neighborhood that is still steeped in tradition and of course he ended up marrying an Italian girl. I loved the description of how he ended uo meeting his future wife and having several Italian friends and having met their mothers, I can picture the mother worrying about the son not marrying, finding a nice girl from a known Italian family, everyone getting together over dinner and the unspoken plan being on everyone's mind. Well, it did work out for Frank and he ended up marrying someone he loved and who loved him.

But rather than settle into a nice quiet life, Frank, who had already owned a bar when he got married, decided to use the Prohibition to make money, a lot of money. He ended up being one of the most successful bootleggers in the Seattle area and of course the Feds noticed this and did their best to stop him. While Frank could outsmart them for a while, his luck ran out eventually (bis brother's luck had run out earlier).

Frank ended up serving time in the McNeil Island penitentiary and there he reinvented himself. In part, this change may have been due to wrath of his wife (did I mention she was Italian), who could not forgive him for getting arrested despite his promises to not get caught. So Frank still was able to redeem himself in the end. He ended up leading a respectable life in a second career, maybe not making quite as a much money as he was when being a bootlegger.

What made this book interesting to me besides the Prohibition angle and taking place in the US Northwest were two items. The book was written by the great granddaughter of Frank, who had carefully researched the family history. And the book is full of pictures of Frank and his family, all taken by Asahel Curtis. I always find that any book about a person can use at least a couple of pictures of the person. Sometimes the character of a person is reflected in how they look, sometimes the looks do not give any clue as to the person's character. But having a couple of pictures just brings the person closer to the reader. The pictures and having a member of the family write the book really help in bringing Frank close to the reader. I almost felt like having dinner or coffee with another person and listening to them telling a story about a relative.

Some of you may think that Frank Gatt broke the law and deserved to be punished, not written about in a book by a relative that makes Frank appear like a nice family man. I agree, Frank broke the law and he deserved to get punished for that. He did get punished because Frank Gatt served a prison sentence. But I also cannot help but be reminded of my grandfather, who lived through WWII and the aftermath in Germany. He also did not always stick to the right side of the law during the war because he did not side with the ruling Nazi Party. And even after the war, when he friends were starving, he broke the law to secure food. Sometimes people break the law because of the times. My grandfather, when times were again more stable in Germany, was a law abiding citizen that would have never thought of breaking the law, even cheating anyone at a card game or trying to gain an unfair advantage somehow. And in the description of Frank Gatt I recognize character traits of my grandfather and maybe I am more forgiving to Frank than some of you. But Frank did turn his life around and was first and foremost a devoted husband and father. So even while bootlegging, there were rules he would not break, just like you expect from a Gentleman Bootlegger.

The Gentleman Bootlegger is available on You can also purchase the book from Inkwater Press.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book through the publisher Inkwater Press. The opinions expressed in this blog are solely my own and have not been influenced by Inkwater Press or any third party. 

Book Review: The Church Builder by A. L. Shields

I got this book through and while this publisher is usually handling books with a religious angle, I have gotten some really good books for review. This book was described as the first book in a "thrilling new series about a secret war between the forces of faith and those who would destroy it." So I expected a religious angle, but more along the lines of the Ken Follett books, such as Pillars of the Earth. Ken Follet also has religious themes in his book, after all Pillars of the Earth is all about building a cathedral.
This book is definitely more explicit in terms of the religious tones than the books by Ken Follett, but it is still enjoyable and certainly does not feel like reading an updated version of the bible.

The book starts off with Bethany Barclay, a lawyer, trying to figure out what happened to Annabelle. Annabelle was Bethany's best friend and was murdered by unknown forces; the same forces that Bethany will have to deal with throughout the remainder of the book. As Bethany comes closer to determining what really led to Annabelle's death, she also becomes involved in the same struggle that caused her friend's death. What Bethany is up against is the century old battle between two organizations. The Garden is a group of individuals led by the Builder that are intent on protecting the church and religious freedom. On the other hand, the Wilderness are a group equally determined to destroy all religious faith. Bethany becomes involved in the ongoing fight between these groups and in the process assesses her own belief and character.

This book is definitely entertaining and does not have such strong religious overtones that it at any time appears to preach to the reader. It is well written and combines faith and action in a book that can be described as page-turner. That being said, the religious angle and the role of faith in a person's life is definitely more pronounced in these books that in other books that deal with religious struggles. So be ready to maybe be enticed to examine your own faith while reading the book. I enjoyed the book and found it entertaining.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book through in exchange for an honest review. The post is reflecting solely my opinion and has not been influenced by booksneeze or any third party.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

BookTrib Live Chat with NY Times Bestselling author Wendy Corsi Staub 4PM ET 10-9-13

Make plans to join the Live Chat at because you can ask the author questions about her book and you can also win a free copy of THE GOOD SISTER. 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Product Review: GoGoSqueeze - applesauce in a bag!

Through I was able to review GoGoSqueez applesauce. It is all natural, gluten-free and each container has only 60 calories, one serving of fruit and is 100% REAL FRUIT. The flavor of the original applesauce really does taste homemade, nice and sweet, with a slight hint of cinnamon. For those of my readers that are interested, the website is here. In addition to gluten free, the products are non-GMO, have no colors or flavors added and the packaging is BPA-free.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - my little sample box from for GoGoSqueez
As I am sampling yet another applesauce in a bag, I am beginning to wonder why all of a sudden applesauce comes in squeeze bags rather than the little plastic container with the tinfoil covering. Anyone have a hypothesis? My thoughts, you fill less applesauce in the squeeze bags, but charge a similar price to the plastic containers and just upped your profit margin. I like the squeeze bags, don't get me wrong. But it is just curious that these containers now pop up everywhere for applesauce-type foods. Maybe it is the BPA in the regular plastic containers, but I am not sure. Interesting observation though and I will try to figure out why manufacturers are jumping on the squeeze bag bandwagon so quickly. 
copyright Durhamonthecheap - cut little coloring card for the little ones included in my sample package!
Like I stated, the flavor of the original applesauce was really good. I spent more time trying to get the rest of the applesauce out of the container than it took me to initially eat the contents. But I was determined and as I was sitting in my office with the bag between my teeth, I realized that the bag may be popular because it can serve as a quasi pacifier for the kids. Anyhow, GoGoSqueez comes in a huge variety of flavors. Since I got a coupon for a free box (containing four squeeze bags of fruit goodness), I will now have to see what flavors are being carried in the local stores. The organic line of GoGoSqueez comes in apple-banana and apple-raspberry flavors as well as in apple-mango or apple-pear flavor. I am hoping that one of these four, which are my favorite out of the 11 flavors in the organic line, are available locally. The apple-banana sounds really good and has the added benefit of getting banana flavor without having to worry about the bananas bruising in the lunch bag. 

So the question still remains, why all of a sudden the squeeze bags for applesauce. What do you think? Meanwhile, we are enjoying the natural goodness of applesauce in a bag or whatever container we can get it. I actually made some homemade applesauce today with plenty of cinnamon and brown sugar - yum!

Disclaimer: I received from a free package of GoGoSqueez, including a coupon for another 4-container package, as well as additional promotional material. All opinions expressed in the blog post are my own and have not been influenced by or any third party.

Friday, October 4, 2013

less than one week into the Health Insurance Exchange - we have a security breach!

and what a stupid one at that. Unencrypted information from subscribers (which included social security numbers) was sent to the wrong email address. Now I know that we all at one point may have possibly sent something as a response to a listserv when we only wanted to email one person, but we are not working for a Health Insurance Exchange and we do not routinely handle SSNs of other people. This incident involved only 2400 people, but still. This is less than one week after this whole exchange enrollment started and we already have a breach.

Does this government have any experience in information security before they offer these exchanges to people? Most hospitals require encryption for any patient records because state laws, such as in North Carolina, will already put you in a spot that if you encrypt patient data you can save yourself a boatload of trouble. If you store SSNs on your laptop and it gets stolen from the backseat of your car, usually encryption of that data at rest can save you the cost of a breach notification. If the data was not encrypted, you likely will have to do a breach notification. Now the calculation is easy, invest in some relatively cheap encryption software (you can get even get some free software for encryption) or risk paying your patients $100+ for credit monitoring in addition to your reputation damage. No wonder encryption is so popular with healthcare providers.

Seemingly with healthcare providers that are not associated with healthcare exchanges. Emailing SSNs over the public internet? I guess the government has not heard of the ability to sniff traffic? Or a bunch of other attacks, like DNS spoofing, that are only a few years old or older? Who handled the security assessment for these exchanges?

I am wondering whether the government really wants people to use these exchanges because this does not bode well for people planning on trusting these exchanges with their information.
You can read more about this little incident here. For now, my reaction can be summed up as follows.