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Archive for April, 2010


With the temperatures warming up outside, it’s time to put on the sunscreen, drag out those tattered garden gloves, and sharpen those rusty shears. Picture how good it’s going to feel to reestablish those short sleeve and ankle sock tan lines while working up a sweat in the yard! Yeah, well maybe not today. Just got an iPad an hour ago and it’s redirecting my best intentions!

#1 – Time to Plant!
It’s that time of the year again when little vegetable plants nod in the breeze as we walk by them in the garden center. It can be confusing to know when the best time is to plant each type of vegetable, but The Garden Helper can help answer those types of questions. This site has a vegetable planting guide and tons of growing tips that are helpful to novice gardeners and experienced ones, as well. For someone like me, who could not live off the fat of the land, every little bit of advice helps!

#2 – Poisonous Plants
Last week I addressed foods that your pets should not eat. This week I’m focusing on plants that are potentially poisonous to your pets, cats and dogs specifically. The Humane Society of the United States has an extensive list that you can download as a PDF. Review the complete list so that you are familiar with plants in your yard that could be a potential problem. Here’s a short list of a few that are more commonly found in yards:

Azaleas – entire plant
Bird of Paradise – pods
Caladium – entire plant
Carolina Jessamine – flowers, leaves
Common Privet – leaves, berries
Daffodil – bulbs
Daphne – bark, berries, leaves
Day Lily & Easter Lily – entire plant is toxic to cats
Delphinium – entire plant, especially sprouts
English Ivy – entire plant especially leaves and berries
Foxglove – leaves
Iris – leaves, roots
Lantana – foliage
Laurels – leaves
Lupines – seeds, pods
Morning Glory – seeds, roots
Narcissus – bulbs
Oaks – shoots, leaves
Oleander – leaves
Philodendron – entire plant
Rhododendron – leaves
Sago Palm – entire plant, especially the seeds
Wisteria – pods, seeds

#3 – Eating at McDonald’s Around the World
My daughter recently told me about some meat-flavored potato chips she had in Egypt. That reminded me of this site which features McDonald’s cuisine from around the world. It’s interesting to see how McDonald’s caters to the local crowds.

#4 – The Snail’s Drink of Choice
I was reading a gardening article in my local newspaper and learned a few things about snails I had not known before. Did you know that snails can devour 30-40 times their weight, that they are hermaphrodites and thus can impregnate themselves or their partners, and last, but not least, that they love to drink beer? It seems snails are attracted to the yeast in beer, so go ahead and put out some shallow pans of beer so that those little guys can drown their troubles. But, beware, if you put out the wrong kind, they may not take the bait. According to research done at Colorado State University, snails tend to favor Kingsbury Malt, Budweiser, Bud Light, and Old Milwaukee brands. Light beer? Snails watch their weight?

#5 -Has Your Soul Bloomed, Yet?
If you’ve never been thrilled to the very edges of your soul by a flower in spring bloom, maybe your soul has never been in bloom.  ~Terri Guillemets

Today’s the last day of April which means tomorrow is May Day! Go ahead and dance around the maypole if you feel like it! Enjoy your weekend!

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Because I’ve done some posting about Mother’s Day – table decorations and recipes, thus far – I’m sure I’ve made my children a little nervous. They are probably wondering what my expectations are for the day and are probably pondering what to do for their dear old mom. Not! But anyway, I thought I would give them a little help. If you are reading this, my darling children, I really have no expectations for the day. I’ll be happy as long as you remember Mother’s Day and you give me a call. However, if, by any chance, one of you buys me a gift card for Mother’s Day, here’s a cute way to wrap it!

To make this gift card holder you will need:

*Paper for template
*Heavy colored paper
*Ruler
*Scissors
*Pencil, stylus, or small knitting needle
*Double-stick tape
*Rubber stamp, optional
*Ink pad, optional
*Sticker or a punch-out

Directions:
1. Click on the photograph of the template at the bottom of the page and the image should become enlarged.
2. Print out this image.
3. Cut out the image to create a template.
4. Put the template on the colored paper and trace around it lightly with a pencil.

5. Do not remove the template from the paper. Line up the ruler along a row of dotted lines and run the stylus against the ruler to score the fold lines. Repeat this with the other three rows of dotted lines.

6. Cut the card holder out of the colored paper.

7. If desired, you can write something, stamp a sweet saying, or place a sticker in the center square. This will not be revealed until the gift card is removed.

8. Fold along the scored lines.

9. Using double-stick tape, adhere the gift card to the large center square of the card holder.

10. Fold the sides of the card holder to the center, overlapping as you go. None of the side panels should completely show if folded correctly.

11. To keep panels down, secure with a sticker or a punch-out that has double-stick tape on the back.

12. Give it to your mom and give her a kiss, too!

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Sometimes it’s the simple things in life that are the best. What could be more simple than serving a warm loaf of rustic bread with a bowl of good quality olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar? Combine that with a hearty soup or a healthy salad and you have yourself a great meal. Of course, adding a bottle of wine to the menu would make the meal even more enjoyable! Here’s a simple recipe for a dipping oil very much like the type served in Piatti Restaurants.

Piatti-Style Dipping Oil:
1/4 teaspoon chopped parsley
1/4 teaspoon finely minced fresh garlic
Pinch of salt – to taste
Pinch of freshly ground pepper – to taste
Pinch of chili flakes
Balsamic vinegar, enough to cover bottom of small serving dish
Extra virgin olive oil, 4:1 olive oil to vinegar

Place ingredients in the order listed into a small serving dish or ramekin.

Makes enough for two people to dip bread with their meal.

Enjoy!

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Today’s post is dedicated to the memory of Alicia Rose Parlette who passed away yesterday at the young age of 28. Alicia was a gifted writer, journalist, and was a close friend of my oldest son. Bravely chronicling her diagnosis and ensuing life with incurable cancer in a 17-part series called “Alicia’s Story” for the San Francisco Chronicle, Alicia was and continues to be a source of inspiration for people all over the world. The world has lost a beautiful person and a brilliant spirit.

#1 – The Language of Flowers
Most people will agree that a gift of flowers is a thoughtful gesture. So that you know what your gift is really saying, here are some of the more traditional meanings for today’s popular flowers according to Pioneerthinking.com:

Anemone – Unfading love
Baby’s Breath – Everlasting love
Cyclamen – Resignation and goodbye
Daisy – Innocence
Forget-Me-Not – True love; memories
Gardenia – You’re lovely; secret love
Hydrangea – Thank you for understanding; frigidity; heartlessness
Iris – Faith; hope; wisdom and valor
Jasmine – Amiability; attracts wealth
Lavender – Devotion
Marigold – Comforts the heart
Nasturtium – Conquest; victory in battle; maternal love; charity; patriotism
Oleander – Caution; beware
Petunia – Resentment; anger; your presence soothes me
Rose (general) (red) – Love ; I love you
Stock – Lasting beauty
Tulip (general) – Fame, charity; perfect lover
Violet – Modesty; calms tempers; induces sleep
Zinnia – Thoughts of friends

#2 – A Book to Grow By
Dr. Cherie Carter-Scott wrote a little book called If Life is a Game, These Are the Rules that’s filled with a lot of food for thought. She writes about her “Ten Rules for Being Human.” These rules may seem self-evident to most people, myself included, but I discovered reading about them in detail to be an enlightening experience.

Here are Dr. Carter-Scott’s Ten Rules For Being Human:
1. You will receive a body.
2. You will be presented with lessons.
3. There are no mistakes, only lessons.
4. Lessons are repeated until learned.
5. Learning does not end.
6. “There” is no better than “here.”
7. Others are only mirrors of you.
8. What you make of your life is up to you.
9. All the answers are inside of you.
10. You will forget all of this at birth.

#3 – Make Word Clouds
Sitting at your computer, but need to take a little break? Go to www.wordle.net and make a “word cloud.” You type in the words and decide on font, layout, and colors. A print-worthy word cloud is yours for free.

#4 – Updates & Comments
Here are a few comments and updates from readers:
A. My coworker’s husband who has been eating steel cut oatmeal as per My Most Requested Recipe post has had his cholesterol score drop 34 points since his 2008 results! Way to go Jim!

B. I received a comment from someone regarding an entry I wrote on April 9th. I wrote about about how your garden can help others if you “Plant a Row for the Hungry” and reader Gar offered this additional information:
Another way your readers can help the needy is to visit http://www.AmpleHarvest.org – a site that helps diminish hunger by enabling backyard gardeners to share their crops with neighborhood food pantries.

The site is free both for the food pantries and the gardeners using it.

Backed by Google.com and the USDA, more than 1,600 food pantries nationwide are already on it and more are signing up daily.

It includes preferred delivery times, driving instructions to the pantry as well as (in many cases) information about store bought items also needed by the pantry (for after the growing season).

If your community has a food pantry, make sure they register on http://www.AmpleHarvest.org.

C. It seems a lot of readers did not understand the title of my April 12th post. “Release the Cracklin!” was a tongue-in-cheek referral to the phrase “Release the Kraken!” that the god Zeus yells out in the movies “Clash of the Titans.” A Kraken is a mythical sea monster of gargantuan size. A cracklin’ or crackling is the crispy skin of a pig. I was taking artistic leeway in calling bacon a cracklin’. Okay, you can laugh, now.

D. Although this is not a comment, it is a request from a reader. I have been asked to ask my readers, especially the gardeners out there, if they know of any pest or critter that could be responsible for stripping off all the leaves and flowers on his vegetable plants overnight. Something devoured his plants and he can’t figure out what. He has wired fencing all around his vegetable garden to keep the deer away and he has placed barriers into the soil to prevent rabbits from burrowing under the fence. He thinks it had to be something that climbed over the fence. Ideas, anyone?

#5 – Little Flower
Just living is not enough. One must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.
-Hans Christian Andersen-

Goodbye little flower. Bless you Alicia Rose Parlette.

For more information about Alicia and to contribute to the Alicia Parlette Fund for Aspiring Journalists please go to msparlette.wordpress.com.

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There was something strange in my dog’s food bowl. I stooped down low to get a good look at the light-colored, smooth-looking substance. It was Swiss cheese and I knew exactly who had given it to the dog! I quickly went into my pantry, grabbed a yellowing newspaper clipping that I had cut out and posted on the pantry bulletin board years ago, and showed the “Never Feed Your Pet . . ” article to my husband. My husband loves our little Romeo so much that he forgets Romeo is a dog and he lovingly feeds Romeo scraps of human food. This obviously is not the first time I’ve had this conversation with my husband and I’m not sure what it’s going to take, other than Romeo developing an extreme illness, to really get my husband’s attention. It was a good thing Romeo was smart enough (this time) to know better than to eat the cheese.

To all pet owners, if you really love your pets, please be aware that your “loving ways” could be harming them. Below is a list I recently compiled to help refresh my family members as to the items that should not be fed to dogs and/or cats. Each category heading is followed by a D, a C, or by both to denote whether the item is harmful to dogs, cats, or both. This list is only meant to be a helpful reminder. Your veterinarian should be consulted with any questions regarding what your pet should or should not eat.

Lastly, if your pet has ingested any of the items on this list, call your veterinarian, an emergency animal clinic, or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center. The number for the Animal Poison Control Center is (888) 426-4435. It is manned 24/7 and a consultation fee can be charged to your credit card. I called this number a few years ago, because my dog managed to unzip my daughter’s purse and ingest six sticks of sugar free gum. Needless to say, we make sure the chewing gum in our house does not contains Xylitol.

HARMFUL TO YOUR PETS
Alcohol (D & C)
Alcoholic drinks and food made with alcohol should be avoided. The harmful effects range from vomiting and diarrhea to death.

Apples, Apricots, Cherries, Peaches and Plum (D, C?)
These fruit contain a type of cyanide compound that can poison your dog if he eats enough of the stems, seeds and leaves. This can result in dilated pupils, breathing difficulties, hyperventilation, and shock. Pits from peaches, plum, and apricots can also cause obstruction of the digestive tract.

Avocado (D & C)
Avocados contain a substance called Persin which is highly toxic in most animals. Just a little can cause your pet to vomit and have diarrhea. In addition, if you grow avocados at home, keep your dog away from the plants. Persin is in the leaves, seed, and bark, as well as in the fruit.

Baby Food (D & C)
It can contain onion powder, which can be toxic to dogs and cats. (Please see onion listing below). Consumption of baby food can also result in nutritional deficiencies, if fed in large amounts.

Bones From Fish, Poultry, or Other Meat Sources (D & C)
Bones can cause obstruction or laceration of the digestive system. Bones can also cause tooth fracture.

Canned Tuna (C)
Large amounts of tuna (for human consumption) can cause malnutrition, since it lacks proper levels of vitamins and minerals.

Cantaloupe (C)
Cantaloupe can lead to kidney failure for cats that ingest it.

Cat Food (D)
It’s generally too high in protein and fats for dogs.

Chocolate, Coffee, Tea, and Other Caffeine (D & C)
These contain caffeine, theobromine, or theophylline, which can be toxic and affect the heart and nervous systems. Dark chocolate is more dangerous than white chocolate.

Citrus Oil Extracts (D & C)
Items containing these can cause vomiting.

Corn on the Cob (D)
Ingesting one of these is one of the most common ways a dog can get a blocked intestine. The dog bites off a piece, swallows it, and the cob blocks the small intestine. This can kill a dog if it’s not removed surgically.

Dog Food (C)
Generally this is not a problem if small amounts are ingested, but if fed repeatedly, it may result in malnutrition and diseases affecting the heart .

Fatty Foods and Fat Trimmings (D & C)
Excessive amounts of fatty foods can cause pancreatitis. Pancreatitis signs include abdominal pain, acute onset of vomiting, and diarrhea. The pain can show through a hunched posture when you pick up your pet.

Miniature and toy poodles, cocker spaniels and miniature schnauzers are especially prone to pancreatitis.

Grapes and Raisins (D & C)
They contain an unknown toxin, which can damage the kidneys. There have been no problems associated with grape seed extract.

Ham (D & C)
Ham and other salty meats and foods are very dangerous to pets. In addition to being high in fat, they are also very salty which can cause serious stomach ache or pancreatitis. Also, large breeds of dogs that eat salty food may drink too much water and develop a life-threatening condition called “bloat.” This is where the stomach fills up with gas and within several hours may twist, causing the pet to die.

Hops (D, C?)
An unknown compound causes panting, increased heart rate, elevated temperature, seizures, and death.

Human Vitamin Supplements Containing Iron (D & C)
Vitamin supplements containing iron can damage the lining of the digestive system and be toxic to the other organs including the liver and kidneys.

Kitchen Pantry Items (D & C)
Many other items commonly found on kitchen shelves can harm your pet. Baking powder and baking soda are both highly toxic and so are nutmeg and other spices. Keep food items out of your pet’s reach and keep pantry doors shut.

Liver (D & C)
In large amounts liver can cause Vitamin A toxicity, which affects muscles and bones.

Macadamia Nuts (D & C)
These nuts contain an unknown toxin, which can affect the digestive and nervous systems and muscle. They can cause a wide range of symptoms – from depression to tremors to hyperthermia.

Marijuana (D & C)
Marijuana can depress the nervous system and cause vomiting and changes in the heart rate.

Milk and Other Dairy Products (D & C)
Some adult dogs and cats do not have sufficient amounts of the enzyme lactase, which breaks down the lactose in milk. This can result in diarrhea. Lactose-free milk products are available for pets.

Moldy or Spoiled Food & Garbage (D & C)
These items can contain multiple toxins causing vomiting and diarrhea and can also affect other organs. In bigger doses, they can cause seizures, coma, or even death.

Mushrooms (D & C)
Mushrooms can contain toxins, which may affect multiple systems in the body, cause shock, and result in death.

Onions and Garlic & Chives (D & C)
Raw, cooked, or powdered onions and garlic contain sulfoxides and disulfides, which can damage red blood cells and cause anemia. Cats are more susceptible than dogs. Garlic is less toxic than onions.

Persimmons (D & C)
Persimmon seeds can cause intestinal obstruction and enteritis.

Potato, Rhubarb, and Tomato Leaves; Potato and Tomato Stems (D & C)
These plants contain oxalates, which can affect the digestive, nervous, and urinary systems. This is more of a problem in livestock, but tomatoes can cause gastrointestinal upset in cats.

Raw Eggs (D & C)
Raw eggs contain an enzyme called avidin, which decreases the absorption of biotin (a B vitamin). This can lead to skin and hair coat problems. Raw eggs may also contain Salmonella.

Raw Meat and Raw Fish (D & C)
Raw meat and raw fish, like raw eggs, can contain bacteria that cause food poisoning. In addition, certain kinds of fish such as salmon, trout, shad, or sturgeon can contain a parasite that causes “fish disease.” If not treated, the disease can be fatal within 2 weeks. The first signs of illness are vomiting, fever, and big lymph nodes. Thoroughly cooking the fish will kill the parasite and protect your pet. Ingestion can result in a thiamine (a B vitamin) deficiency leading to loss of appetite, seizures, and in severe cases, death. More common if raw fish is fed regularly.

Salt (D & C)
If eaten in large quantities it may lead to electrolyte imbalances. There’s also such a thing as sodium poisoning.

String (D & C)
String or ribbon can become trapped in the digestive system.

Sugary Foods (D & C)
Sweets can lead to obesity, dental problems, and possibly diabetes mellitus.

Tobacco (D & C)
Tobacco contains nicotine, which affects the digestive and nervous systems. Ingestion can result in rapid heartbeat, collapse, coma, and death.

Yeast Dough (D & C)
Yeast dough can expand and produce gas in the digestive system, causing pain and possible rupture of the stomach or intestines.

Your Medicine (D & C)
Reaction to a drug commonly prescribed for humans is the most common cause of poisoning in dogs. Keep all medicines out of your dog’s reach. And, never give your pet any over-the-counter medicine unless told to do so by your vet. Ingredients such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen are common in pain relievers and cold medicine but, they can be deadly for your pet.

Xylitol (D & C)
Xylitol, an artificial sweetener, can be found in gum, candy, baked goods and toothpaste. It can cause liver failure.

To compile this list I scoured the internet for information. Here are some of the helpful sites I found:
aspca.com
peteducation.com
pets.webmd.com
http://www.wikihow.com
stluciaanimals.org
oceanviewanimalhospital.com

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Continuing to “attack the stack,” I pulled a newspaper clipping out of a pile and looked at the date of May, 2008. “It’s time to check out this baby,” I thought to myself. Perusing the very short list of ingredients – only four – I noted that I had everything that was required. Nothing extraordinary on the list except for b-e-e-r! How great is it that the yeast in beer acts as a mild leavening agent, so we can use it in our baking?!

One of the comments provided by the newspaper recipe contributor was,”This bread is a canvas for you to flavor any way you choose.” Being a risk-taker in the kitchen, I decided to give my loaf a Tex-Mex type of flavor by adding a can of diced green chilies and some shredded cheddar cheese to the flour, sugar, salt, and beer. In my head I thought the flavors would meld together well.

When I sampled the final product of an inviting golden-brown-crusted loaf of bread, I was amazed. I was amazed at how awful it was! I had my volunteer food tester, aka my husband, taste it. I knew it was as nasty as it could get when my lover-of-everything-I-prepare husband said, “This is inedible!” It was bitter and had a slimy texture. So, on my Ick-Scale of one to ten this was a ten-ick. Wow, where did I go wrong?

Reviewing the recipe and the entire process, these are the possible errors I made:
1. The beer was a light beer and possibly did not have enough flavor and did not add enough body to the batter.

2. I accidentally added baking soda instead of baking powder to the flour mixture. The recipe stated that if you did not have self-rising flour you could add 3 teaspoons of baking powder to the flour to achieve the same results. Remember, I’ve mentioned this before, I am not beyond screwing up recipes by not reading them thoroughly.

3. My husband thinks the sliminess came from the diced green chilies, but I’m not sure if this is true. The recipe contributor had commented on friends adding chilies to their breads.

4. I should have gotten out two bottles of beer – one for me to drink first and then one to add to the bread!

Not wanting to accept that I had been bested by a six-ingredient Beer Bread, I decided to start over. I was more diligent about reading the recipe through and decided to forgo the Tex-Mex route for an Italian-Herb type one. I made a few other changes to the batter and stuck the second Beer Bread loaf in the oven. With trepidation, I carefully sliced the second crusty loaf and put a piece into my mouth. Okay, this is what a successful Beer Bread is supposed to taste like – finger-licking good!

So here’s my adaptation of successful Beer Bread:

Ingredients:
*1 12 oz. can or bottle of beer. (I used a bottle of Foster’s the second time around).
*3 cups of sifted self-rising flour (If you don’t have self-rising flour at home, you can make it by sifting together 3 cups of all-purpose flour with 4-1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 1-1/2 teaspoons sea salt).
*1/3 cup of sugar (upped from 3 T in original recipe and I would consider increasing or decreasing the sugar amount depending on what ingredients you are adding to the basic batter).
*2 2.25 oz. cans of sliced olives
*1 teaspoon of Italian seasoning
1/2 cup Italian Blend Cheese
Butter, optional

Directions:
1. In a large bowl mix together the sugar and the sifted flour. Stir in the Italian seasoning. Make a well into the flour-sugar-seasoning mixture and slowly pour in the beer. Mix until just moistened. Add the cheese and olives. Mix until just combined. Do not over mix.
2. Pour into a greased 9″x5″ loaf pan. Let sit for a bit to let the yeast in the beer get settled (15-30 minutes).
3. Bake at 350 degrees for a total of 45 to 50 minutes. Test with a toothpick or cake tester after 45 minutes.
4. If desired at the halfway baking point, brush melted butter on the top of the bread and sprinkle with a little garlic salt. Repeat the brushing of butter and sprinkling of garlic salt when the loaf comes out of the oven.

Cheers and good luck!

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This photo says it all. It’s that kind of day. It’s a hula-hooping, sun-shining day and, even though I sound like I live on Sesame Street, I feel that way. Today’s my birthday and I’m celebrating the gift of this very lovely day!

#1 – Gifts That Help
Finding gifts for others can be difficult, but at charitablegiving.com it is not only easy to find unique gifts, it is also helping to fulfill the needs of others. The blog states, The purpose of this blog is to find some of the best stuff you can buy on the Web where a portion of the proceeds are donated to a charity or other non-profit organization in need.

We’ll surf major retailing sites, as well as mom-and-pop sites, to find the best out there. Whether you buy these products as gifts for others or for yourself, you can feel great about your purchase, knowing that you’re not just buying a gift, but helping a great cause too.

Not only does this blog post about products and causes, but it also invites its readers to post about other cause-worthy products. The upside is that you’re exposed to a lot of wonderful products for sale and feel good while buying. The downside is the need to be a smart buyer. Check out the cause and the organization to your satisfaction before making any purchases.

#2 – Creative Gift Wrapping
When wrapping gifts try to think outside the box. Be creative and resourceful. Try to reuse items you have on hand. Here are a couple of ideas to get you going:

Potato Chip Bags:
It’s not as weird as you think! Turn the bag inside out and wash it with soap and warm water. Completely wipe it dry. Wrap your item in tissue paper and put item in the bag. Fold the bag ends in and use double-sided tape to seal. This is a good way to wrap irregularly shaped items and the silver look is interesting. Different sized chip bags for different sized gifts!

Tubes:
Toilet paper tubes, paper towel tubes, wrapping paper tubes – they’re all the same except for length. Wrap your gift item with tissue paper first, then insert into the tube. Either cut paper or cardboard circles and tape to seal the ends shut or just put packing tape over the ends. Wrap the gift in a piece of paper that is 3-4 inches longer than the tube on each end. Twist the paper ends and tie ribbon on twists. This will look more or less like a piece of candy. If you don’t like that look, wrap it with paper and fold down the ends in pleats and tape.

Reading Materials:
Magazines and newspapers are obvious choices for wrapping, but consider old calendars, postcards (wrap these around tubes), and shopping bags.

#3 – Give the Gift of a Book
According to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, “Bookcrossing is the practice of leaving a book in a public place to be picked up and read by others, who then do likewise.” At BookCrossing.com, “Where 854,720 people in over 130 countries come to share their passion for books with the world,” you can sign up for free to become a member and learn how to begin registering and tracking books left in public places.

#4 – My Gift To You
Here’s a recipe for butter cookies that I’ve had since I was a child. Easy to make and delicious to eat!

1 cube butter
1 cup flour
1 egg
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

Mix all ingredients together and drop by small teaspoonfuls. Bake at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes. Enjoy!

#5 – Consider The Present
Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. And today? Today is a gift. That’s why we call it the present. ~Babatunde Olatunji

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