Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Happy National Hot Chocolate Day! *plus* Hot Chocolate Spoon Craft

Happy National Hot Chocolate Day, My Lovelies!  Can you believe that today is the last day of January?  Let's celebrate it with one of my favorites:  Hot Chocolate!  And since Valentine's Day is only two weeks away, here's a little craft sure to warm the heart of your Valentine.

Here's what you'll need for this craft:

You'll need (from upper left, clockwise) festive ribbon in Valentine's Day colors; candy or lolly wrappers; Jet-Puffed Mallow Bits, wooden party spoons in Valentine's Day colors; milk chocolate chips; parchment paper (not shown)

NOTE:  I think it's safer to use wooden spoons rather than plastic, especially since the spoons will be submerged in hot milk.  I bought mine at Swoozie's.


Melt the chocolate chips in the microwave in a microwavable glass bowl for one minute.  Stir. Keep melting in thirty second increments until all the chips are melted and the mixture is smooth.  Please know that the bowl will be freakin' hot!  I found out the hard way.  Dip and scoop the wooden spoons in the melted chocolate until they are completely covered in chocolate and there's lots of chocolate inside the spoon.  Place on parchment paper and sprinkle with marshmallows.  Let the chocolate harden completely;  this takes at least one hour if not two.

Wrap the spoons in the lolly wraps and tie with ribbon.  Place in a Valentine's Day mug and wrap.  I included an instruction card:  "Place spoon in 6-8 ounces hot milk."

I chose a plain mug so the spoons would be the focus of the present.

I wrapped it in a cookie wrap bag I had left over for Christmas.  I think the colors are appropriate for Valentine's Day, too.

Here's a close-up of the wooden heart I added with the instruction tag.

Wasn't that simple?

Now on to the recipe round-up...

Hot chocolate is comfort in a cup!  Click on the link below each photo for the hot chocolate recipe.

When you click over, scroll down for this's really thick!

Until next time...

Ricki Jill

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

My Happy List: Cozy, Happy Activities

Vintage books from Prudence and the Crow in vintage fabric book sleeves

Happy Tuesday, My Lovelies!  I've been staying home quite a bit lately, and up until yesterday, we had several days of rainy, gray weather.  So the things that have made me happy of late are the activities here at home.

1.   I've been playing with a few vintage books from my Prudence and the Crow book subscription.  Many of the covers are fun!  I love the old fashioned fun of Sarah's Cottage on the left, and the pop art of Jennie on the right.  Collecting vintage books makes me happy!

2.   FINALLY I watched Loving Vincent.  Oh, how I love this film!  It was only in theaters in Birmingham for a few days and I missed it,  But we watched it on AppleTV, and I'm so smitten with it.  The acting is amazing, and the art!  Oh, how much fun it must have been for the artists who painted the oil paintings for this film.  Loving Vincent  makes me so very happy!

Have you seen this wonderful movie yet?

Getting in touch with my inner child

3.   Sunday I read A Wrinkle in Time because it's been a few years since I read it, and I baked some oatmeal chocolate chip cookies to send to the college students.  I saved a few for myself, though!  

The recipe is from A Cozy Kitchen, and you make find the recipe HERE.  Y'all....these cookies are the bomb!  I love them!  The flake sea salt make them extra special.  Let me know if you bake them!

Reading wonderful stories while snacking on deliciousness makes me so, so happy.

4.   I'm so happy to report that I've started Valentine crafts.  Valentine crafts make me so happy!  I can't wait to share them with you.

That's about all I've got.  Staying at home and doing cozy activities have made me happy over the past week.  Now that the sun is out, I'm walking and getting some sunshine!

What is making you happy this week?

Until next time...

Ricki Jill

Monday, January 29, 2018

In Every Moment We Are Still Alive

Happy Monday, My Lovelies!  Today I'm reviewing an autobiographical novel written by a Swedish poet: In Every Moment We Are Still Alive by Tom Malmquist.

About In Every Moment We Are Still Alive

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Melville House (January 30, 2018)
A prize-winning, bestselling debut of love, loss, and family–based on a true story–that’s winning readers around the world.
When Tom’s heavily pregnant girlfriend Karin is rushed to the hospital, doctors are able to save the baby. But they are helpless to save Karin from what turns out to be acute Leukemia. And in a cruel, fleeting moment Tom gains a daughter but loses his soul-mate. In Every Moment We Are Alive is the story of the year that changes everything, as Tom must reconcile the fury and pain of loss with the overwhelming responsibility of raising his daughter, Livia, alone.
By turns tragic and redemptive, meditative and breathless, achingly poignant and darkly funny, this autobiographical novel has been described as ‘hypnotic’, ‘impossible to resist’ and ‘one of the most powerful books about grief ever written’.
Shortlisted for the Nordic Council Literary Award — the ‘Nordic Booker’ — the judges praised it as “one of the most powerful books about grief ever written.” Malmquist is the first novelist to ever win Sweden’s prestigious Dagens Nyheter Culture Prize.  This novel is translated from Swedish by Henning Koch (the translator of Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove). 
“Beautiful…arresting… A deeply personal account. As more books are published, we increasingly seek out those writers who promise to give us something more than mere fiction. We want books made out of lives… The value of Malmquist’s book is precisely that it retains a trace of true human presence… carefully preserved by the author.” – The Guardian
“It is bound to invite comparison to Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle… Perhaps more so than Knausgaard, Malmquist demonstrates over lengthy passages that he can relay life in an intense, heightened state. The result is exhilarating.” –Financial Times  
A unique form… infused with deep urgency. A great stylist, Malmquist’s immersive prose perfectly limns the demands of living within the chiaroscuro of deep grief.” —Foreword Reviews, starred review 
“By turns raw, unsettled, and touching, Malmquist’s book is an extended meditation on what it means to love and to mourn. A deeply emotional and affecting novel.” – Kirkus
“Kafkaesque… remarkably credible.” – Booklist
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About Tom Malmquist

Tom Malmquist is a poet and sportswriter. He has written two highly acclaimed poetry collections. In Every Moment We Are Still Alive is his first novel. He lives in Sweden.

My Review:

This is a very difficult book to read both because of the content and the writing style.  First I'll explain about the writing style.  Malmquist uses very little parenthetical and chapter breaks.  Plus he doesn't use any quotation marks for dialogue, so it's very difficult to figure out who's saying what.  It's also difficult understanding who the secondary characters are and what their relationships are to either Tom or Karin because there is no explanation.  It's as if Tom keeps a notebook and takes copious notes only for himself, which is what Tom actually does in the hospital when Karin was admitted pregnant and with acute, terminal leukemia.  He writes down everything the mdeical professionals tell him about Karin's case and prognosis.  As a reader I felt like I was spying on a group of people, and I was left to my own devices to figure out the story, or I was reading a very personal journal that would not and should not make sense to me.  The narrative does oscillate back and forth between the present and the past, and this is good because it helps to explain who the secondary characters are, and it also helps convey Tom and Karin's love story.  But the changes in the narrative are abrupt and happen as quickly as an unbidden memory in the middle of a conversation.

The content is very difficult to read.  Karin is such a tragic character: she's had cancer before and when she develops leukemia out of the blue seven months into her pregnancy my heart breaks for her, Tom, and their baby.  Their daughter Livia is born via cesarean section so Karin can begin chemotherapy.  Tom is very descriptive of Karin's declining health, procedures, and her appearance. He also spends quite a bit of time detailing the red tape he must cut through in proving to the Swedish government that he is indeed Livia's father.  His descriptions of Karin in the final stages of her illness are extremely hard to read.  Not only does Tom have to deal with his grief over Karin while taking care of a premie baby, his father's cancer has accelerated and he must deal with even more grief.  During this part of the book we learn about Tom's childhood.  Tom's father enjoyed a highly successful if not controversial career as one of Sweden's top sports journalists.  

Although difficult to read and sad beyond comprehension, I couldn't put this book down.  Part of the reason why is determination: I was determined to conquer the story and see how Tom handles being a single father, grief, and his father's illness.  Also, I find the topic interesting.  Grief is as individual as a fingerprint or snowflake: No one handles it the same.  It's something we must deal with on our own, and as well-meaning as our loved ones are, they can't really help other than pray.  Although "life must go on" when we lose someone we love, this book isn't a cliché.  It's about Tom, his love for Karin, his grief over her death, his acceptance of his father's death, and his determination to be a good daddy to Livia.  Although not as poetic as I'd expected given that Tom Malmquist is a poet, this novel is beautiful because of Tom's expression of his love and grief for Karin and his life with Livia without her.

Below is an affiliate purchase link for the book.

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Disclosure:  I received an ARC of In Every Moment We Are Still Alive from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for a fair and honest review.  

Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill

Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Shabby Creek Cottage DIY Challenge for January: Photo Frame

Happy Saturday, My Lovelies!  I decided to take Gina's DIY challenge for January: a DIY photo frame.  This craft is so easy, y'all will be embarrassed for me, I'm sure.  But I like how it turned-out, and it's something super easy you can make just in time for Valentine's Day!

Below are the challenges Gina has thought of for 2018:

First, let's take a look at the supplies you'll need.  I bought all my supplies at Michael's except for the ribbon, and the frame was less than $2.00.

Clockwise from top left:  Elmer's glue, pencil, balsa wood heart, scissors, fabric adhesive sheets, seam binding ribbon via Etsy, and photo frame with heart-shaped cutout.


1.  Choose your fabric: One for the frame and a different one for the heart.

2.  Take the paper out of the frame, and place it facedown on the paper backing of the fabric.

3.  With the pencil, draw the outline of the frame including the heart cutout.  

4.  Use the scissors to cut on the lines you drew.

5.  Carefully peel off the fabric backing of the fabric and adhere the fabric to the front of the frame.  Do it slowly and start on the side with the heart.  Try not to stretch the fabric.

6.  Do steps 3 - 5 with the heart.  

7.  Glue the fabric heart on the frame.  If you prefer, you may use a hot glue gun.

8.  Cut a 6" length from the ribbon and tie it into a small bow.  Glue it to the small heart and trim ribbon if needed.

Isn't this the easiest DIY frame project *ever*????

Also, when you're giving a frame as a gift, it's a nice touch to handwrite a quote and stick it in the frame rather than keep the impersonal photos that come with frames.  

Link to The Shabby Creek Cottage HERE.

Will you try this craft?

Until next time...

Ricki Jill

Friday, January 26, 2018

Literary Friday: The Wedding Bees

Happy Literary Friday, My Lovelies!  This is the last book I'll share from my Christmas vacation.  During this month I've been sharing all four books I read during the holidays, and today I'm sharing The Wedding Bees by Sarah-Kate Lynch.  I read another book by Lynch during Christmas break a few of years ago entitled Dolci di Love.  It was very cute!

My Christmas break reading stack

According to Goodreads:

Sugar Wallace did not believe in love at first sight, but her bees did. . . .

Every spring Sugar Wallace coaxes her sleepy honeybee queen—presently the sixth in a long line of Queen Elizabeths—out of the hive and lets her crawl around a treasured old map. Wherever the queen stops is their next destination, and this year it's New York City.

Sugar sets up her honeybees on the balcony of an East Village walk-up and then––as she's done everywhere since leaving South Carolina––she gets to know her neighbors. She is, after all, a former debutante who believes that manners make the world a better place even if they seem currently lacking in the big city.

Plus, she has a knack for helping people. There's Ruby with her scrapbook of wedding announcements; single mom Lola; reclusive chef Nate; and George, a courtly ex-doorman. They may not know what to make of her bees and her politeness, but they can't deny the magic in her honey.

And then there's Theo, a delightfully kind Scotsman who crosses Sugar's path as soon as she gets into town and is quickly besotted. But love is not on the menu for Sugar. She likes the strong independent woman she's become since leaving the South and there's nothing a charmer like Theo can do to change her mind . . . only her bees can do that.

The Wedding Bees is a novel about finding sweetness where you least expect it and learning to love your way home. 

My Review:

Oh, how I love this book!  The cast of well-drawn, yet quirky characters all fall under Sugar's spell.  She is the perfect Southern Belle: smart, strong, charming, and polite.  Manners matter to her, so New York City had better take note and button-up because Sugar will set you straight....politely, of course!

I love the "cute-meet" between Theo and Sugar.  Both fall in love at first sight, but only Theo is willing to jump right in and begin a relationship he's certain will lead to marriage and a happy dotage.  Sugar, in spite of her feelings, wants none of that!  Fortunately for Theo, Queen Bee Elizabeth VI knows what's best for Sugar, and she's team Theo all the way.  Plus she has a hive who answers to her beck and call, and they lend support to the queen's cause.

I love the diverse characters in Sugar's building and her East Village neighborhood.  The supporting cast of characters provide delightful dialogue and hilarious situations.  I also love the idea that someone can keep bees in New York City and concoct all kinds of wonderful products and remedies in a tiny walk-up's kitchen.  

If you enjoy cute love stories with interesting characters (including a queen bee) who provide just enough conflict to keep the plot interesting, then you'll love The Wedding Bees.  This one is a keeper, and I highly recommend you find a copy this weekend, get cozy, and read it!  (Earl Grey tea with a spot of honey would pair perfectly with this sugary sweet book.)

Below is an affiliate link if you'd like to purchase the book.  Just click on the book cover!

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Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Photo Organizational Challenge: January Project

Happy Thursday, My Lovelies!  Today I want to share with you my first project in the 2018 photo organizational challenge.

January has been hectic for me, so I intentionally started out with a small project.  I enjoy displaying photos, but because I don't like a lot of clutter, I like the option of putting them away and displaying something else in its place.  Today's craft allows you to choose five favorite photos and put them in a little flip book that can be displayed on a stand and then stored in a box.

I bought this flip book kit at Michaels.  I chose craft paper in blues and reds for the Chicago Cubbies because the photos inside are from a trip to Chicago. 

Cut the craft paper to fit the shapes, or you can paint the camera.  I also glued craft paper on the pages.

This is Shelley at the Art Institute shortly after the reinstallation of of Marc Chagall's "White Crucifixion."

My mother ship

Shelley, Mr. Sketchy Reader, and Shanley outside of Wrigley Field.

The Bean

Shanley Belle in front of Marc Chagall's "America Windows."
The photos are 6" X 4".

The rings that come in the flip book kit are too small for the stand, so I used larger ones I had on hand.

Folks can flip through the book and enjoy our photos.

When I want to store the book, I can place it in one of these book storage boxes meant to protect craft books from damage.  This one is made by 7 Gypsies.

I could easily store two of these little books in this box.  

In February, I'l show you a neat way to store photos you don't want to display, but you don't want to dispose of, either.

Until next time...

Ricki Jill

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

How To Host a Winter Themed Book Club Meeting *and* Books With a Winter Setting Round-Up

Hello, My Lovelies!  For today's What I'm Reading Wednesday post I thought I'd help you plan a winter book club meeting and round-up three well-written winter themed books.

Hosting a book club meeting should not be that complicated.  By keeping it simple you and your guests can focus on the book discussion, and you as the hostess can enjoy the meeting without being stressed.

First, I'll give you a few ideas on decor for the meeting, and then I'll share the books with you along with a few easy ideas for drinks and dessert.  I think a good time to host is after dinner so you don't have to worry about feeding your club members a meal.  Right away offering dessert and a warm drink simplifies your preparations for the meeting.  I'm also including a savory selection to serve with wine if you prefer savory to sweet.


Keep things simple.  Use a white or winter themed runner on your kitchen table.  Add a houseplant (I used variegated ivy) and some white flowers, like baby's breath, in white or clear vases.  Use small dessert plates that look wintry, and use white napkins.  If you have pretty winter-themed mugs, use them, too. You can set-up a little buffet where club members can help themselves to dessert and drinks.  

This is the Rachel Ashwell Shabby Chic table runner I bought recently.  No, I didn't iron it because she rarely irons her linens.  I love the softness of the linen and the pretty white trim.

I placed snowflake tea light holders on the table along with a scented candle.  The monogrammed napkins were a wedding gift.  The dessert plates and butter bell is from Anthropologie.

The large plate is for serving the dessert.  I thought it would be fun to place it on this wooden server to give it height and interest.

Use what you have!  A houseplant in a pretty pot makes a nice centerpiece with inexpensive grocery store flowers.

The large dinner plate is vintage MacKenzie-Childs.  The pattern is King Ferry from the Taylor line.

I love these snowflake mugs.  They're perfect for a winter event!

You can also place a winter-themed kitchen towel on your table for spills.

Another centerpiece idea is books!  If you don't own any winter-themed books, you can check them out from your local library and place them on your table.  
The ribbon is vintage.

Book Selection Reviews and Menus  

My Review:

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley is unique because it is a novel within a novel.   Writer Carrie McClelland has been writing a book based on the " '08 " (or the failed Jacobite invasion that never was in 1708) that could have restored James Stewart to the Scottish throne.  She writes historical fiction, and has been researching the '08 in France, but unfortunately she is suffering from writer's block. She travels to Scotland for her agent's son's christening, and there she finds her muse.  Jane (her agent) lives conveniently only ten miles from the Slain Castle ruins.  Suddenly, Carrie's writer's block is gone.  The area around Cruden Bay, the village where Slains is located, becomes Carrie's new home while she writes her book.  Carrie lets a cottage by the sea, and she cannot write her novel quickly enough.  Her landlord's two handsome sons, Stewart and Graham, might be a wee bit of a distraction to the lass.

The novel within the novel focuses around Sophia, a distant relative of the Countess of Erroll, the mistress of Slains Castle.  Sophia moves to live at Slains at the invitation of the Countess. The household is instrumental in planning the Jacobite rebellion primarily due to the Countess's politics and the geographic location of Slains castle on the northeastern coast of Scotland.  Visitors and intrigue are a constant at Slains Castle: sea captains, soldiers, gentry, and spies all descend upon the castle waiting for news of James Stewart's return.  One young soldier in particular, John Moray, interests Sophia more than all the others.  Moray is a wanted man, but she falls in love with him anyway.  Sadly, duty calls, and he must return to France to fight for the crown.

Carrie decides to make the focus of her story Sophia, who is one of her ancestors, and her writing explodes from there.  Her dreams are filled with detailed scenes about Sophia and her life at Slains.  As Carrie finishes a chapter, she is stunned at the historical accuracy of her story. She thinks at first that she must have read these historical facts while doing research for her book, but eventually she is convinced she has never before in her life read most of the information.  Could Carrie be reliving the life of her ancestor through genetic memory? Susanna Kearsley brilliantly weaves both Sophia and Carrie's stories together into a seamless book.  I love her writing style, and this novel has two romantic story lines, plenty of history, suspense, and atmosphere.  

Suggested Menu:

Scottish Scones served with butter
Scottish Shortbread
Scottish Breakfast Tea with milk and honey or sugar

My Review:

There are so many things I love about Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay: ballerinas, poets, intrigue, and romance, just to name a few.  It could also be classified as a  historical fiction because part of the plot revolves around artists during Stalin's regime in the former USSR.

Nina Revskaya, a former prima ballerina, defects to the West after she achieves success with the world-famous Bolshoi Ballet.  Eventually settling in Boston, Nina decides to sell her extensive jewelry collection at auction and donate the proceeds to the Boston Ballet.  One of the most intriguing sets included in the auction is a matching set of amber earrings and bracelet.  The set contains specimens: insects that are frozen in time as the resin encapsulates them. Coincidentally, a middle aged Russian Literature and Language professor, Grigori Solodin, also donates an amber pendant with a perfect specimen of a spider and its egg sac to the auction.  It appears to be a part of Nina's set, and together the pieces should raise lots of money for the ballet.

Grigori Solodin was born in Moscow in 1950 at the height of Stalin's dictatorship.  His mother was supposedly a ballerina with the Bolshoi, and she died from hemorrhaging shortly after the birth.  When Grigori was 13, his adoptive parents (scientists who also defected to the West) gave him a purse that contained letters, photographs, and the amber pendant.  Nina Revskaya and her poet husband, Viktor Elsin, were in the photographs. Grigori confronted Nina as a young college student, but she would not tell him anything about his mother.

At the Boston auction house, Drew Brooks, a young associate, is writing the auction brochure and supplement.  She wants to solve the mystery of the matching amber set, and she presses Grigori and Nina for answers.  Nina is obstinate, and the reader does not understand why until much later in the book.  Grigori is a bit more helpful, but he is not telling his whole story, either. Grigori becomes increasingly attracted to Drew, which is a huge surprise to him.  He has been grieving for his wife, Christine, who died two years ago from cancer.  Once Grigori tells Drew everything he knows, Drew has insight that surprises, yet disturbs Grigori about his past. Ironically, Drew also has a strange connection to the story through her Russian ancestry.

As the story weaves back and forth from Stalinist Russia to Boston in the early '00's, Kalotay spins a heartbreaking story of lost friendship, deception, heartbreak, and hope.  The book also teaches an important lesson that it is never too late to do the right thing, and that sometimes forgiveness begins with forgiving oneself.  

Suggested Menu:

My Review:

In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende is a well-written story about three people whose lives are forever changed during a snowstorm in Brooklyn, New York. Allende is a highly acclaimed writer.  She first writes her books in Spanish, and then she translates them herself into English.  I think she's very talented, and I'm embarrassed this is the first book of hers I've ever read.

Richard Bowmaster is an NYU South American Studies professor in his sixties.  He lives a very rigid life, and he has few connections with people.  His Brooklyn brownstone has a basement apartment which he lets to Lucia Maraz, a professor from Chile who teaches in his department.  Lucia has a little crush on Richard, but he's not having it.  He's punishing himself for his tragic past chock-full of poor decisions and careless behavior.  He has four cats who help keep the vermin in check in his brownstone, and during the storm one drinks antifreeze (Richard is also a careless pet owner), and Richard must rush him to the nearest emergency vet clinic.

When Richard leaves the clinic, he skids into a young twenty-something girl from Guatemala named Evelyn Ortega.  Evelyn is undocumented and illegal although her criminal boss has given her a false Native American identification card.  She's also driving her boss's car without permission, so she's frightened.  But there's another much more pressing reason why Evelyn doesn't want to wait for a police report: This pressing reason lands Evelyn at Richard's doorstep the following day, and he calls on Lucia to help him deal with the situation.

The narrative shifts back and forth between present-day Brooklyn and the past for each of the three characters: Evelyn's story in recent-past Guatemala; Richard's story in 1970s Brazil; and Lucia's story in 1970s Chile.  Isabel Allende gradually reveals the stories of these fascinating characters in small increments, and it makes the novel more interesting.  She also describes in horrifying detail the ruthlessness of MS-13 gang members that brutalized Evelyn and her family.  The three join forces on a quest to upstate New York during the storm, and as they share their pasts with each other, the reader has a clearer picture of why they make certain choices.  This book is a bit more political than the other two (think illegal aliens), plus there's plenty of ethical fodder for discussion.

Suggested Menu:
Savory Selection: Mini Cheesy Pretzel Dogs

Discussion Questions

Below are literary guides and/or discussion questions for each book.  You may use the links to learn more about these books, but be careful!  Some of the discussion questions may contain spoilers.

Now you have everything you need to plan your next winter book club meeting!  I am here to help!  ;P

Which book would you pick?

Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill