Recipe #1: Breakfast sandwich

| Friday, January 28, 2011
As part of my blogging this year, I want to highlight some of the foods that we eat regularly at our house.

This is the first entry in my year long recipe series.

I love having a big breakfast. While we will eat cereal every now and then, it just doesn't seem to hit the spot. The breakfast sandwich is probably my favorite breakfast. This recipe is equivalent to what you would buy at McDonalds for breakfast, but quite a bit healthier and cheaper. And the great thing is that it's really easy to make.

Prep Time: 10 minutes (20 minutes if you boil the eggs)
Serves: As many/few as you want

Here's what you need:
  • 1 english muffin per sandwich

  • 1 egg per sandwich

  • Sandwich ham

  • Mayo (or Miracle Whip)

  • Veggies (tomato, cucumber, lettuce)

  • Cheese

Some notes about ingredients:
- I use bread a lot of time instead of English muffins.
- For the meat you can use pre-sliced meat (cheap or expensive) but I like the whole ham taste the best. Sometimes I'll use sausage instead of ham.
- Obviously all ingredients are optional or interchangeable since it's just a sandwich.

Preparation instructions:
- If you are going to boil the egg, instead of fry it, get that started.
- Slice all of your ingredients: ham if not already sliced, cheese and veggies.

- If you are frying the egg, fry it now.
- After the egg is done frying, place your ham in the pan and brown it. Flip it over, place cheese on top of ham and let the bottom fry and cheese melt.
- Toast the muffins/bread.
- Spread mayo on toast, then place all of the pieces on top. If you boiled your eggs, remove shell and slice.
- Enjoy!

Price breakdown:
$.99 for 6 muffins(on special - $.17/muffin)
$1.29 for a dozen eggs ($.11/egg)
$8.99 for 4 lb. ham (assuming 100 slices from the ham, $.9/slice - I used 2 slices per sanwich)
Mayo ($.01/sandwich)
Veggies ($.20 per sandwich)
$1.99 for 8 oz cheese, approx 50 slices of cheese (3 slices per sandwich, $.10/sandwich)
Total per sandwich: $.78

Cheap and good!

Next month I'll highlight another recipe to use the ham with.

Top 10 books from 2010

| Sunday, January 23, 2011
There are tons of books that could have made it on to this list. Definitely some of the books from my other top lists of 2010 were left off this list in order to provide a broader range of books highlighted on my blog.


Quick Synopsis: A serial killer is on the loose in Boston. The victims are killed in a particularly nasty way: cut with a scalpel on the stomach, the intestines and uterus removed, and then the throat slashed. The killer obviously has medical knowledge and has been dubbed "the Surgeon" by the media.

What I thought: I changed my choice for this pick about 10 times. Reading over 260 books makes it tough to narrow it down to 10. Regardless, this book was excellent and very disturbing (which is was going for). I really liked how the book got inside the head of the killer and allowed you to see and hear his thoughts.


Quick Synopsis: Meet Oskar Schell, an inventor, Francophile, tambourine player, Shakespearean actor, jeweler, and pacifist. He is nine years old. And he is on an urgent, secret search through the five boroughs of New York. His mission is to find the lock that fits a mysterious key belonging to his father, who died in the World Trade Center on 9/11.

What I thought: This book was unlike anything I'd ever read. There were pages that had scribbling on them and pages that had single words on them. The way the book was printed definitely added to the very touching story of Oskar as he reflects on his father in a touching story.


Quick Synopsis: Blink is a book about how we think without thinking, about choices that seem to be made in an instant in the blink of an eye - that actually aren't as simple as they seem. Why are some people brilliant decision makers, while others are consistently inept? Why do some people follow their instincts and win, while others end up stumbling into error? How do our brains really work in the office, in the classroom, in the kitchen, and in the bedroom? And why are the best decisions often those that are impossible to explain to others?

What I thought: A very interesting look at how we think and process data subconsciously. Don't think about it too long though or you might go crazy. Seriously though, very interesting to see how we process data.


Quick Synopsis: Young Katniss Everdeen has survived the dreaded Hunger Games not once, but twice, but even now she can find no relief. In fact, the dangers seem to be escalating: President Snow has declared an all-out war on Katniss, her family, her friends, and all the oppressed people of District 12. The thrill-packed final installment of Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy will keep young hearts pounding.

What I thought: Following up my top 2 books from 2009, this was the conclusion to the Hunger Games series. While I didn't like this book as well as the first 2, it was still an excellent book and excellent conclusion to the series. Katniss remains herself through to the end and Collins once again shows her willingness to deal with serious issues.


Quick Synopsis: From Truman's small-town, turn-of-the-century boyhood and his transforming experience in the face of war in 1918, to his political beginnings in the powerful Pendergast machine and his rise to prominence in the U.S. Senate, McCullough shows, in colorful detail, a man of uncommon vitality and strength of character. Here too is a telling account of Truman's momentous decision to use the atomic bomb and the weighty responsibilities that he was forced to confront on the dawning of a new age.

What I thought: The longest book that I read in 2010 and it was absolutely fascinating to learn about the events that lead up to one of the most momentous decisions in human history to drop the atomic bomb. Excellent biography by a very talented author.


Quick Synopsis: The Gulag--a vast array of Soviet concentration camps that held millions of political and criminal prisoners--was a system of repression and punishment that terrorized the entire society, embodying the worst tendencies of Soviet communism. In this magisterial and acclaimed history, Anne Applebaum offers the first fully documented portrait of the Gulag, from its origins in the Russian Revolution, through its expansion under Stalin, to its collapse in the era of glasnost.

What I thought: Excellent history of the Gulag system in Russia. Having lived and served in Russia definitely added to why I enjoyed this book so much as I had personal ties to what happened during this time frame, but a book that everyone should give a go at just to be well rounded.


Quick Synopsis: Miss Eugenia Phelan ("Skeeter" to her friends) is a young woman of privilege who enjoys her fellow Junior Leaguers but sometimes finds their ways at odds with her own principles. She plays the part of her station in 1960s Mississippi but can't help feeling dissatisfied with keeping house and acting as recording secretary at league meetings, and yearns for something more.

What I thought: This is one of the mainstream best books of 2010 as it was on the bestseller list for a long time (may still be there). It's for good reason too. I fell in love with the characters here and really felt for the black women in the 1960s.


Quick Synopsis: What if you had only one day to live? What would you do? Who would you kiss? And how far would you go to save your own life?

Samantha Kingston has it all—looks, popularity, the perfect boyfriend. Friday, February 12th should be just another day in her charmed life. Instead, it’s her last.

What I thought: This book floored me. I wasn't expecting it at all and it really made me step back and look at my relationships and how I interact with people and what I do behind there back. Think Groundhog Day, but well done.


Quick Synopsis: The book tells the stories of two men born worlds apart. They have nothing in common except the same date of birth (April 18, 1906) and a zeal to succeed in life. William Lowell Kane is a wealthy and powerful Boston Brahmin while Abel Rosnovski (originally named Wladek Koskiewicz) is a Polewas born in a situation of great poverty and eventually emigrated to the United States.

What I thought: This book barely made it in right at the end of the year and was easily my favorite fiction novel that I read. The book was quite long, but very touching and Jeffrey Archer brings the two primary characters to life and develops them into characters that feel for by the end. Great literature from over 30 years ago.


Quick Synopsis: This is history on a grand scale -- a book about politics and war and social issues, but also about human nature, love, religious faith, virtue, ambition, friendship, and betrayal, and the far-reaching consequences of noble ideas. Above all, John Adams is an enthralling, often surprising story of one of the most important and fascinating Americans who ever lived.

What I thought: One of the very first books I read during 2010, and the best. This book opened my eyes to the non-fiction history genre. I didn't realize how much I loved reading history books until I finished this one. McCullough delivers an exhilarating read about John Adams. I don't think Adams was the best president or person ever, but this book makes him come to life in front of your eyes.

Top 5 Series from 2010

| Wednesday, January 19, 2011
I read a lot of series this year, and I read a lot of really good series. See my favorite audiobooks from 2010 to find some other great series.


Number of books: 5

Quick Synopsis: Percy Jackson is about to be kicked out of boarding school...again. And that's the least of his troubles. Lately, mythological monsters and the gods of Mount Olympus seem to be walking straight out of the pages of Percy's Greek mythology textbook and into his life. And worse, he's angered a few of them. Zeus's master lightning bolt has been stolen, and Percy is the prime suspect.

What I thought: Don't judge the series off the movie (you can say that about almost any movie made from book). The series overall is a pretty light read but a lot of fun. Percy gets lucky throughout but I really enjoyed learning a bit more about Greek Mythology and having a good laugh.


Number of books: 3

Quick Synopsis: Miranda’s disbelief turns to fear in a split second when a meteor knocks the moon closer to the earth. How should her family prepare for the future when worldwide tsunamis wipe out the coasts, earthquakes rock the continents, and volcanic ash blocks out the sun? As summer turns to Arctic winter, Miranda, her two brothers, and their mother retreat to the unexpected safe haven of their sunroom, where they subsist on stockpiled food and limited water in the warmth of a wood-burning stove.

What I thought: My favorite book in this series was definitely the first one, but I really loved how this book made me reflect on what is important in life the most and what I need to do to be prepared for any type of natural disaster. I also really liked how Miranda was so real - being very pessimistic at times and working out what she wants to happen with her life.


Number of books: 6

Quick Synopsis: In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race's next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew "Ender" Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the soldier-training program but didn't make the cut—young Ender is the Wiggin drafted to the orbiting Battle School for rigorous military training.

What I thought: So I actually read Ender's Game last year, but I read (listened) to the rest of the series this year. I am typically not a sci-fi fan, but this series was very well done (perhaps it is the audiobook format that helped as well). Overall though, the books are very interesting and I highly recommend them along with the Shadow series (especially interesting after reading Ender's Game).


Number of books: 3

Quick Synopsis: Mikael Blomkvist, a once-respected financial journalist, watches his professional life rapidly crumble around him. Prospects appear bleak until an unexpected (and unsettling) offer to resurrect his name is extended by an old-school titan of Swedish industry. The catch - and there's always a catch - is that Blomkvist must first spend a year researching a mysterious disappearance that has remained unsolved for nearly four decades. With few other options, he accepts and enlists the help of investigator Lisbeth Salander, a misunderstood genius with a cache of authority issues.

What I thought: This probably would have been number 1 on my list, but I read the first book in the series back in 2009, so I dropped it to 2nd place. Regardless, this whole series was very good, but quite intense and graphic. These books were probably the most popular in the US this year, and for good reason. Highly recommend this series but realize the content is very serious.


Number of books: 4

Quick Synopsis: Meet Isabel "Izzy" Spellman, private investigator. This twenty-eight-year-old may have a checkered past littered with romantic mistakes, excessive drinking, and creative vandalism; she may be addicted to Get Smart reruns and prefer entering homes through windows rather than doors -- but the upshot is she's good at her job as a licensed private investigator with her family's firm, Spellman Investigations. Invading people's privacy comes naturally to Izzy. In fact, it comes naturally to all the Spellmans. If only they could leave their work at the office. To be a Spellman is to snoop on a Spellman; tail a Spellman; dig up dirt on, blackmail, and wiretap a Spellman.

What I thought: Loved these books overall. Izzy and her family are absolutely crazy and Izzy is a real smart alec who likes to give everyone a hard time. I seriously don't know how to explain these books. Give them a read and you'll find out.

Top 5 Audiobooks from 2010

| Saturday, January 15, 2011
As promised, here's the first of my top lists from 2010. Note that there are books that I liked more than some on this list, but they will be featured in some of my other lists to come, so I wanted to give as wide a variety of books as possible. Enjoy!


Quick Synopsis: 3rd book in the Peter and the Starcatchers series. The series is about Peter Pan before the typical story of Peter Pan. It chronicles how he came to be on the island and how he and Captain Hook came to be enemies. This book is the climax of the series as Peter and Molly come to the land of Rundoon and must battle their enemies, including the evil shadow king, Ombra.

What I thought:I found this book after listening to the Harry Potter series read by Jim Dale. If you've never listened to the Harry Potter books as read by Dale, I'd highly recommend them. This series is also a lot of fun and made much better with Dale voicing all of the characters.


Quick Synopsis: Quentin Jacobsen has spent a lifetime loving the magnificently adventurous Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. So when she cracks open a window and climbs back into his life - dressed like a ninja and summoning him for an ingenious campaign of revenge - he follows.

What I thought: This book really got me turned on to John Green as an author. The book is for young adults but looks at some serious topics about life and love overall. With several laugh out loud moments, this book is a fun listen.


Quick Synopsis: From the same author that wrote The Hunger Games, comes Gregor, an eleven year old that follows his little sister through a grate in the laundry room of their New York apartment, he hurtles into the dark Underland beneath the city. There, humans live uneasily beside giant spiders, bats, cockroaches, and rats—but the fragile peace is about to fall apart.

What I thought: In spite of what the synopsis sounds like, this series is great. Give it a chance. This book is quite a bit different than The Hunger Games series, but a really fun listen. The books are for a younger audience but deal with some intense topics. I really like that Collins is willing to kill of some of the main characters and explore how the other characters deal with it. Ripred, the rat, is hilarious and the prophecies are well done. This would probably be #1 on my top 5 series from 2010 if it wasn't here.


Quick Synopsis: Second book in the Matt Cruse series. Forty years ago, the airship Hyperion vanished with untold riches in its hold. Now, accompanied by heiress Kate de Vries and a mysterious gypsy, Matt Cruse is determined to recover the ship and its treasures. But 20,000 feet above the Earth's surface, pursued by those who have hunted the Hyperion since its disappearance, and surrounded by deadly high-altitude life forms, Matt and his companions soon find themselves fighting not only for the Hyperion—but for their very lives.

What I thought: This series is a light fantasy series (meaning that it isn't our world, but there's not any magic or major fantastical creatures like dragons). Matt Cruse is a character that it is easy to cheer for and the book is by far the funniest in the series. Highly recommended series that probably would be #2 on my top 5 series from 2010 if it wasn't here.


Quick Synopsis: John Wayne Cleaver is dangerous, and he knows it. He’s spent his life doing his best not to live up to his potential. He’s obsessed with serial killers, but really doesn’t want to become one. So for his own sake, and the safety of those around him, he lives by rigid rules he’s written for himself, practicing normal life as if it were a private religion that could save him from damnation.

What I thought: The synopsis is for the first book in the series, I Am Not a Serial Killer. Having listened to the first book earlier in the year, I couldn't wait to get my hands on this one. I was constantly looking for it and couldn't find it for the longest time. Fortunately, it didn't let down and the book was just as clever and witty as the first. John is very sarcastic throughout and it really adds to the book overall. Fun read and series.

Some book stats - 2010

| Tuesday, January 4, 2011
After reading Tyler's book stats, I wanted to do some stats of my own. Here you go:

Total books read: 265
Total pages read: 102,352
Average book length: 386 pages
Average rating: 3.86 out of 5

Of the 265 books:
57 were audiobooks (22,273 pages)
130 were kindle/ebooks (51,949 pages)
74 were checked out (27,307 pages)
4 were borrowed (1,570 pages - thanks Danielle)

251 were books I'd never read before

4 received 1 star
42 received 2 stars
110 received 3 stars
91 received 4 stars
18 received 5 stars

From when I added a book to my 'to-read' list to when I finished reading it took me 79 days on average.

Link to my 2010 books.

I calculated my stats by exporting my booklist from Goodreads and doing some excel calculations.

Happy New Year!

| Saturday, January 1, 2011
I can't believe it's already 2011. 2010 was a great year and I grew a lot over the year and I accomplished a lot. In an effort to improve in different areas of my life, here are 3 of my goals for 2011.

  1. Blog at least twice a month
    During 2010, I only had 12 total posts. One of the reasons for that is because I was so focused on reading (see my reading goal below) but also because I wasn't focused on what I wanted to write about. As part of my blogging, I want to cover a recipe or food that we enjoy at least once a month. That will leave me with at least 12 more blog posts over the year that will cover random topics that I'll choose as they come along. I suspect that in January I will be blogging a little more often as I cover my top lists from 2010.

  2. Become more flexible
    This past year I accomplished something that I never thought possible: I ran a half marathon. On top of that I've really began to focus on getting and keeping myself in good shape. One of the areas that I am severely lacking is in my flexibility. More specifically, by the end of 2011, I want to be able to comfortably touch my toes while standing (right now I can get about 6-8 inches away fairly comfortably). In order to obtain this goal I will be including a regular stretch routine in the evening when I am doing some other small exercises.

  3. Read 100 books
    You may be surprised that my goal is so low this year compared to last year (final count was 264 books), but having read so much last year I realized that I was ignoring some other things that I also wanted to do. I was so set on reading at least 250 books that I would put off other tasks (there's still no lawn in the backyard). By setting a lower goal I'll be able to still enjoy reading while finishing up several other projects around the house and also round out my time with some other personal goals (not listed here).

Here's to a New Year and to making it even better than 2010. I'm off to complete one of those house projects.