Welcome to Ceci Says …

Hello! So glad you could stop by my blog. I hope you’ll stick around and read a bit. You’ll find that I do have a few things to say on a variety of topics. To find out more about what kinds of things you’ll find here, check out the About page (click the link in the pretty green bar at the top of the page).

Thanks again for stopping by, and I hope you’ll come back and visit again soon!

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Mother’s Day Gifts You’ll Want to Buy for Yourself

Happy Mother's Day

 

It’s May, which means Mother’s Day is around the corner. If you need a gift for your Mom or if you need to throw a few hints around because you ARE a mom, look no further. With just a few exceptions, these gift ideas come from my own experience with these items. I love them, I use them, and I’m always glad I have them. And even if Mother’s Day wasn’t coming, I would recommend them. Shoot, I would probably buy them for myself as a nice Mother’s Day treat. So if you need an excuse to do a little shopping, go ahead – I won’t tell!

 

Mother’s Day Gift Guide – My Picks for Moms

 

If you want a super fantastic curated guide to awesome Mother’s Day gifts, please don’t miss the Cool Mom Picks Mother’s Day Gift Guides. These always contain fabulous ideas for every kind of mom and every budget you can think of. They go way beyond the ordinary mass-produced cards, jewelry and retail items. I’ve found wonderful and unique gift ideas for moms, grandmas, mothers-to-be, and mothers-in-law. And many of the ideas they share would be appropriate and cherished by most women, whether they’re a mom or not.

My Mother’s Day gift list tends to lean toward the practical with ideas for the Home Chef, Book Lover, Outdoor Mama, and Movie Buff. Where I strayed from the “tried and true” is one item for the New Mom that caught my eye and looks so fabulous I had to include it even though I have no personal experience with it. So without further delay, on to the list!

(In the spirit of full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. This means I may earn a commission – at no extra cost to you – if you purchase something using one of my links. This helps cover the expense of running the site while keeping the content 100% free. Note that I only recommend products I believe in. Your support is appreciated!)

For the Home Chef

If you know a mom who enjoys being in the kitchen, these picks might make her do a little happy dance. I love seeing what delicious concoctions I can create for my family, so these gift ideas definitely have been tried and tested and pushed to their limits in my own kitchen. I spend most of my time here in my own home, so it’s no wonder that this category has the most gift ideas of all.

 

A Good Old Cast Iron Pan

Eggberts Sunriser in Mini Cast Iron Skillets (from The Pioneer Woman)

Eggberts Sunriser in Mini Cast Iron Skillets (from The Pioneer Woman)

I didn’t know what my life was missing until I got one of these babies! Cast iron can go from the stovetop to the oven without a hitch. And if you ever watch those cooking shows where they talk about all the “little brown bits” on the bottom of the pan that have so much flavor, this is where you get them. Cast iron cooks like no other pans in my kitchen. If you have any doubt, check out these recipes for a scrumptious Strawberry Skillet Cake and a savory Spanish Omelette. Dessert and breakfast from the same pan? Can’t beat that. And if you want to get all cute and don’t mind a little more prep time in the kitchen, the Eggbert’s Sunriser, in adorable individual size cast iron pans would make a fun and festive Mother’s Day brunch.

Get the full size and mini pans here: (affiliate link)
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Flippy Waffle Maker

Mother's Day Waffles

(Photo by Eliza Adam on Flickr)

Have you ever stayed at one of those hotels with the free breakfast buffets? If you have, you’ve seen the cool waffle makers they have. The ones you flip over to make your waffle. I don’t know why these are so cool, but we have one, and the waffles turn out fluffy on the inside with a little bit of crispness on the outside. If you enjoy a good waffle, then a good waffle maker is a must. And this baby is good. Also, it doesn’t take up much space, so storing it is easy.

Here’s the one we have (affiliate), and we love it!

 

 

Versatile Stick Blender

(Photo by Meal Makeover Moms on Flickr)

(Photo by Meal Makeover Moms on Flickr)

Most moms try to eat healthy as much as possible, and that becomes much easier when you can include tasty soups and sauces in your mealtime repertoire. Adding cream can add calories and fat, but using a handy immersion blender can create the same creaminess without the heaviness. It’s much easier than transferring hot soup to a blender or food processor, and it’s also fun to use.

My sisters and I got a great deal on these several years ago, but you can get one here (affiliate), and it comes with a chopper attachment for all your chopping needs.

 

For a Basket of Kitchen Gadget Goodness

Gadgets for Mother's Day

Looking around my kitchen, I see so many cool items that make cooking more fun and exciting. While they seem ordinary, they often get overlooked when stocking a kitchen. So Mother’s Day seems like the perfect time to put together a basket of little things to make mealtime, snack time or anytime easier, healthier and more interesting. (Affiliate links at the end of this section.)

Baking Joy

For baking the most fabulous cookies, I can’t live without my cookie scoop. It makes all your cookies beautifully shaped and all the same size. With all the bake sales and teacher gifts that happen in our lives, this little tool is a gem.

And once the cookies are baked, you need a high quality cookie spatula to get them off the pan without breaking. With its simple design, this spatula does the trick every time. I got mine while doing a bake sale to raise funds for Cookies for Kids Cancer, so mine is the special edition, but the one in the link is exactly the same, just without the cute color and text.

Weight Loss Wonder

I’ve lost 13 pounds since February, and part of the credit goes to dramatically cutting down on my carb consumption. But with a house full of noodle eaters, what’s a girl to do? Enter the zoodler, or vegetable spiralizer. I can choose a healthy vegetable as a pasta substitute – my preference is zucchini – spin it through my zoodler, and voila, instant veggie noodles! I just use them in place of the pasta in whatever recipe I’m serving the rest of the family, and it’s terrific.

If you want to get a little fancier or are serving the whole family, my friend Beth, from One Missing Ingredient, has a great recipe for Zucchini Noodles with Basil and Tomatoes. The one I bought has 4 blades for different size “noodles” and it comes with cleaning brush, a tool to change the blades, a vegetable peeler, paring knife and recipe book.

Save Your Knives

Being in the kitchen a lot means I appreciate a good, sharp knife. Good knives are a must and keeping them sharp and in top condition takes diligence. One thing that has helped save my knives from premature dulling is this little scraper/chopper thingy. Now that the kids have started doing more food preparation and cooking, I find myself constantly reminding them not to drag my good knives against the cutting board. But with this scraper tool, we can easily scoop up our chopped veggies off the board without worrying about our knives. I use it all the time, and now that I have one, I truly don’t know what I ever did without it.

Pass the Salt

Who can eat meal after meal without proper seasoning? Not me. Our salt cellar gets constant use, and it looks pretty on the counter. Because it sits next to the stove, it’s so easy to reach in for a small sprinkle of salt, and the wide opening is perfect for dipping in a measuring spoon for precise portion control or your fingers for just a pinch of goodness to make your recipes perfect. Find a cute one to match your kitchen decor, and you’ll leave it on the counter all the time.

Just for Fun

Finally, my cousin Sylvia, introduced us to the joys of giant ice cubes. I know it sounds ridiculous and a bit frivolous, but she was right. Round or square, these make your drinks totally fun and whimsical, and if you make cocktails, they melt slower so they keep your drinks cooler longer and don’t water them down as fast. Perfect for adult beverages or a big glass of lemonade for the kids, these will make Mom a drink hero!

 

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For Moms Who Love to Read

As we approach summer, book loving moms will appreciate some wonderful stories for their bookshelves. A friend recommended the book The Last Camellia by Sarah Jio, and it was fabulous. Since then, I’ve been hooked on her books. The stories are absorbing with surprising elements, likable characters and rich locales. They would be perfect to take to the beach or the neighborhood pool. But they would be equally at home on any bedside table or waiting room book bag. They’re quick reads with substance, and they’re perfectly suited for women. So if your mom loves to read, any of these would make a great Mother’s Day gift.

Here are the Sarah Jio titles I’ve read (affiliate). But don’t limit yourself to these, she has tons more to choose from.
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For the Outdoor Mama

Mother's Day Outdoor Gear

Outdoor Gear for Outdoor Moms – Insulated Hydration Pack & Cooling Scarf

Mother’s Day marks the beginning of the summer season. With that comes a myriad of opportunities to get outside. Whether it’s swimming practice, a morning hike or a relaxing beach vacation, Mom should be comfortable in the great outdoors.

Stay Hydrated

Two items in my closet come to mind as must-haves for warm outdoor activities. First, my hydration pack. I bought this item before I ran my first 5K. I wanted something light and small, but I didn’t want to pay a lot of money for the fancy running packs out there. So I went with this one, and I love it. The opening to the water bladder is big enough for ice. And the pocket for the water bladder is insulated, so my water stays cool, even in the hot Arizona sun. In addition, it’s big enough to carry enough water and what I need for a day hike, and it’s comfortable to carry.

Stay Cool

Pair the water pack with this “cool” multipurpose wrap and you’ll have the ideal Mother’s Day gift for the mom who spends time outdoors. The technology in this wrap amazes me! Just get it wet, yank the ends to snap a few times, and it provides a cooling effect. It also offers chemical-free UPF50 sun protection. I’ve worn this hiking, my son has used it, and it saved me on a 98 degree scorcher at the county fair. It lowers your body temperature and keeps you from overheating when shade or shelter are hard to find. You can wear it around your neck (my preference), or over your head or in a number of other ways. Whatever you find comfortable will work. And I think it’s a win if you can help mom (or yourself) enjoy being outside.

(affiliate links)
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Movies and TV Shows to Escape Into

Mother's Day Movies

(Photo by waferboard on Flickr)

Every mom has their own unique viewing tastes, so I won’t try to cover all the bases. But these are 3 that I love from the past year.

Mom Magic

First, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Being a huge Harry Potter fan, I wasn’t sure if this movie would live up to the Harry Potter series. But it did. In a big way. It was so much fun to see the magical world of magical creatures come to life. And with J. K. Rowling behind the story concept and script, it delivered an imaginative, immersive and completely entertaining escape.

Supernatural Moms

Next, Ghostbusters (the female version). What could be more perfect for Mother’s Day than a funny, feminist take on a classic movie? The female cast didn’t try to re-create the characters from the original. Instead, they brought their own interpretation to the screen, and they were hilarious. I saw this with my girlfriends on a girls’ weekend, and it provided more than a few recurring chuckles. There’s nothing serious or heavy about this movie. It’s pure fun for moms who could use a good laugh.

History and Drama to Love

Finally, no list of TV & Movies from me would be complete without Downton Abbey. I know I’m not the only one who felt a little deflated when the show ended. But thanks to the magic of DVD or Blu-ray or digital, we can all re-visit Lord Grantham, Lady Mary and the rest of our British TV family. Because it became personal. We cared about them, we ached for them, laughed with them, feared for them. They became part of our lives. If your mom is a Downton fan, let her re-live the series at her leisure. She’ll love that she doesn’t have to wait until Sunday night for the next episode.

(affiliate links to giftable blu-ray, DVD and/or digital downloads)
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For Moms with Itty Bitty Ones

My two favorite things for new moms (or repeat moms with new babies) include a fabulous folding stroller and this fashionable (NOT tent-like) breastfeeding cover.

The nursing cover from Covered Goods puts all other nursing covers to shame. No, not really, but it seriously looks great, can be used in several different ways, and it works to actually cover you up. When you’re not nursing, wear it as a scarf or use it as a stroller/car seat cover. It looks great in so many ways. If you want more info, see my post from last year on this product.

Versatile nursing cover

Fabulous Nursing Cover by Covered Goods – click the picture to purchase directly from Covered Goods (affiliate)

 

This folding stroller is the only item on my list with which I have no personal experience. But it’s too fabulous to leave off. Here’s the video I posted on my Facebook page a few days ago. It says it all. To get one for a special mom in your life who could use one, click the Amazon link (affiliate). Seriously, what mom wouldn’t want one of these? And it won’t completely break the bank.

 

 

For the Personal Touch

Personalized Mother’s Day gifts always make the grade. Whether they’re for mom or grandma, a handmade gift can never be wrong. I love the gifts my kids have made – my macaroni necklace; the handprint t-shirt with their names; the hand painted pottery vase, plate and owl figure; and every drawing they’ve ever done.

Handmade

For a handmade gift that doesn’t have to be hard, try a mosaic stepping stone. I love the one my son made me, and it looks great at the entrance to our backyard garden. It comes in a kit, so it couldn’t be easier. It makes me smile every time I see it, and I’m sure any mom would love to unwrap one on Mother’s Day.

Mother's Day Stepping Stone

Personalized stepping stone

 

 

Custom Jewelry

If you’re looking for something a little less handmade, try a personalized necklace from Lisa Leonard Designs or an Origami Owl Living Locket. Both of these companies offer high quality products that exude personality and style. For something perfect for grandmas, check out the Lisa Leonard Jumble of Love necklace. We gave one to my mother-in-law with the all the grandkids’ names on it, and she loves it. As far as I know, she wears it all the time. Plus it looks beautiful on her.

My sisters and I all have some version of an Origami Owl Living Locket, and they’re so much fun. I wear mine all the time – it’s a necklace – and I always get compliments. My sisters, who wear name badges for work, got the lanyard styles, and they dress up a boring name badge like nothing else. Personalize them with your favorite charms to represent your mom recipient’s personality, or choose the special Mother’s Day designs featured in the above link.

 

Wrapping It Up

With a little more than a week until Mother’s Day, now is the perfect time to get moving on shopping for the right gift. Or … just order what you would love, wrap it up and put it on the brunch table for yourself. After all, mama, you deserve it!

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Volcano Eggs: Easter Eggs Meet Simple Science

Volcano Easter Eggs

Colorful Volcano Easter Eggs

Easter Egg Dyeing: Quick and Easy

 

Easter is tomorrow! If, like me, you waited until the last minute to color your eggs, this method of dyeing Easter eggs will make your eggs beautiful in a simple and easy way. (Be sure to keep reading until the end for a bonus method of dyeing eggs quickly, and they look fantastic!)

First, boil your eggs. Countless experts have weighed in on how to do this so your eggs are easy to peel, and your yolks don’t turn grey. My electric-stove method is simple: put your eggs in a pot, cover with cold water and bring to a gentle, rolling boil. Boil for 5 minutes, then turn the heat off, cover, and leave the pot on the burner for 7 more minutes. After 7 minutes, immediately remove the eggs and place them in an ice bath (just a big bowl of ice water) to stop the cooking. Allow the eggs to cool, and you should have beautiful boiled eggs.

Once they cool, pat them dry and they’ll be all set to get some color on!

 

Volcano Eggs: How to Do It

 

I first saw this method of dyeing Easter eggs on Facebook with a link to Toddler Approved. Her eggs turned out vibrant and beautiful, but when I used this method, mine did not. Not to be deterred, I started over. I found another tutorial on Playdough to Plato, and this worked better for me. The colors turned out brighter, and the overall volcano effect was more dramatic. So this was the method for us.

Since this creates a dynamic scientific reaction, my son and I made a video to capture the fun. Written instructions follow immediately below the video.

Here’s what you need:

  • Baking soda
  • Food coloring – I had liquid and gel colors and both worked beautifully
  • An ice cube tray or other small containers to mix your colors in
  • Water
  • White vinegar
  • Paint brushes
  • A large, shallow dish or pan with sides (I used a pie pan, but anything with sides will work)
  • A clear, wide-mouth glass or jar (needs to be wide enough to fit an egg)
  • A variety of items to mix with and add small amounts of water – small spoons, toothpicks, eye-dropper or whatever you have
  • An empty egg carton to dry your eggs in (save the one the eggs came in)

How to do it:

  • First, mix your “paints” – put about a tablespoon of baking soda in your ice cube tray, add a few drops of food coloring, then start with a small amount of water and start mixing. It should be grainy at first. Add water a couple drops at a time until you have a spreadable paste. Repeat with your other colors.
  • Prepare your volcano – pour vinegar into a clear glass or jar, enough to cover your egg when dropped in. Place this into your shallow pan and set aside.
  • Paint your eggs with your paste paints. Feel free to mix colors and slather on the paste as thick as you want.
  • Once you finish your design, gently drop the egg into the glass of vinegar and watch the volcano erupt!
  • Remove your egg from the vinegar, allowing most of the vinegar to run off. Then put your finished Easter egg in the drying carton.
  • Repeat with more eggs until you’re done.

A few observations:

  • The more paint you use, the more dramatic your volcano eruption will be.
  • Allowing the paste to sit on the egg for a while will intensify your colors.
  • Adding more food coloring to your paste will also help intensify your colors.
  • Your colors and designs you paint on your egg may come out different after being dunked in the vinegar. That’s part of the fun! Just roll with it; it’ll be okay.
  • You can re-use the vinegar. It will start to look muddy and murky, but it will still work. Feel free to change it to fresh vinegar if you want to see everything as it happens, but don’t feel like you have to change it with every egg. That will use a lot of vinegar and is not necessary for the chemical reaction to occur.
  • You don’t have to wash the eggs after you finish. The vinegar will simply evaporate as it dries. But if you want to make the vinegar smell go away faster, feel free to give the eggs a quick rinse in clean water.

That’s it! A simple, fun and educational way to color your Easter eggs that will have your kids wanting to make volcanos every weekend.

While this did make pretty Easter eggs, the process made quite a mess of my fingers and took a bit of effort set up. It was definitely fun, though I’d rather avoid having a lot to clean up when all is said and done. My son loved it, but it tended to lose its excitement after the first few eggs. I would do it again, but would add some other techniques to keep it fun and to mix up the designs a bit.

 

My Other Favorite Method for Quick, Easy and Beautiful Easter Eggs

 

Rice Easter Egg

Gorgeous Easter Egg done with rice and food coloring

 

If Volcano Eggs don’t float your boat, try the rice method for dyeing your eggs. It super quick and easy, and it makes unique and stunning designs.

Here’s what you need:

  • Large plastic drinking cups
  • Uncooked rice
  • Food coloring
  • Plastic wrap

How to do it:

  • Put about 1/4 cup of uncooked rice into a cup
  • Add several drops of food coloring and swirl it around to coat the rice. Repeat with other colors.
  • Place a boiled egg into a cup, cover the top with plastic wrap & secure plastic with a rubber band.
  • Now put some music on and shake! No really, just shake the egg around. No music required, but it does make it fun.
  • You can stop right there, or you can keep shaking your egg in different cups to add layers of color.
  • Keep going until you have gorgeous Easter eggs, and you’re done!

 

I hope you’ll give these Easter egg dyeing techniques a try, and I hope you have a wonderful Easter! As always, thanks for visiting and let me know what you think of these!

 

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Glorious Pork Roast and Gorgeous Roasted Veggies

Roast Pork & Veggies

 

Today – Thanksgiving eve – I’m all about preparing to roast the turkey. But I need to share a couple of other fabulous recipes with you, especially if you’re looking for a turkey alternative or an amazing side dish to add to your repertoire.

A good pork roast can warm up any dinner menu, and this one is as fabulous as it is easy. Pork roast can end up dry in the oven, but this one comes out tender and moist and full of flavor. I think the key is the luscious herb rub and starting on really high heat before lowering it for the bulk of the cooking.

The original recipe is easy, and it turns out great every time. This week, the pork loin roast was on sale, so I used this larger cut of meat rather than the tenderloin. (The tenderloin is the skinnier cut of meat that the recipe calls for.) Although most experts say you can’t cook these different cuts of meat the same, I’ve found that I can use this recipe successfully with both types of pork roast. I just adjust the cooking time a little if I have a smaller roast.

Since our garden has been doing well, I took a quick trip out to the backyard for some fresh herbs. Of course, a trip to the grocery store works equally well. Or you can use dried herbs. If you use dried, you just use less.

IMG_3735 IMG_3737 Thyme for the roast rub

 

Mix up the rub for the roast in a small bowl.

Herb rub for roast

This roast rub smells heavenly (ignore the ghost scissors that you can see through the glass bowl).

 

Then spoon it over your meat and rub it all over.

IMG_3740 Beautiful roast ready for the oven

 

I had a 3 pound roast and no roasting rack, so I reduced the cooking time a bit. Stick it in the oven at 475 degrees for 20 minutes. Then lower the temp to 425 and roast for 40-45 minutes more. When the internal temperature reaches 155-160 degrees, take the roast out of the oven. Then allow it to sit for 15-20 minutes before carving. After it rests, slice it and serve. The 3 pound roast served 4 of us with plenty of leftovers. The meat retains its flavor beautifully, so the leftovers taste great. They’re also fantastic on a sandwich. We made Cuban sandwiches with the leftovers, a little cheese and pickles. So delicious!

 

Roast Some Veggies to Complete the Meal

 

The meat is so flavorful, and a big platter of gorgeous roasted vegetables makes the perfect accompaniment. The Pioneer Woman (my foodie crush) offers this amazing recipe with creamy butternut squash, red onions and Brussels sprouts. She makes it as a beautiful side dish for her Thanksgiving feast, but it made a fabulous match for my pork roast. It really brightens up the table, so it would be perfect for a dinner party or special occasion or anytime. Did I mention that it’s absolutely delicious?

I had some butternuts that our son grew in the garden, so I used those, but you could just as easily use a package of precut squash from the store. I cut them up and threw them on a pan with the Brussels sprouts and onion. Then I did a little sprinkling and drizzling and stuck them in the oven with the pork roast for the last 20 minutes. They cook at the same temperature as the pork, so it works out perfectly.

Veggies ready to roast

Gorgeous butternut squash, red onion & Brussels sprouts ready to roast

 

When they come out of the oven, put them on a platter, drizzle with some balsamic glaze and pomegranate seeds and you have the prettiest dish ever. The glaze and the pomegranate truly do make these veggies magical, and they compliment the pork perfectly, too. The recipe was easy, even if it required some prep work, but the end result was worth it.

 

Gorgeous roasted veggies

Look how pretty these roasted veggies are!

 

 

Now, don’t you want to eat? Go. Make these. You’ll love them!

 

 

 

 

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Tattered and Torn in the Aftermath of the Election

tattered flag

How I feel … tattered to bits. (Photo by frankieleon on Flickr)

 

A tattered flag, blowing in the wind. After yesterday’s election, this photo seems symbolic of how many of us feel today. It feels raw and unreal, like someone knocked the wind out of me. I have an ache in my heart, a weight on my chest and a lump in my throat. And I am shaken to my core.

I know many of you feel the same, and I think we need each other right now to help process our feelings and make sense of the reality that has been thrust upon us. Our candidate didn’t win, but that doesn’t mean we’ve lost. I’m trying hard to believe that (although I don’t think I’m there yet).

 

Comforting Our Tattered Souls

 

Now, more than ever, we need each other. To share our devastation, to offer words of comfort and wisdom. To heal our freshly wounded spirits. So, yes, I’ve been reading Facebook posts and news articles. I briefly checked my Twitter feed to see what inspiration I can find there. I watched Hillary deliver her speech this morning, and while I remain inspired and hopeful, the sadness and disbelief consume me. These feelings will need to dissipate before I can turn my tattered psyche to meaningful action. But she reminds us,

This loss hurts. But please, please never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it. It’s always worth it.

Whatever we do, we must remember the strength that comes with our diverse perspectives and bring them together to make a difference. After all, our nation was built on this notion, and it still holds true – we ARE stronger together.

 

Tattered images come together to reflect our beautiful diversity

Our diversity makes us strong. (Photo from the George A. Spiva Center for the Arts on Flickr)

 

Other Voices in the Storm

 

For me, beyond the heartbreak lies the fear. Fear of what this really means for our nation. Fear for our near and distant futures. Fear for the world our children will inherit and how this will impact their hopes and dreams.

I know those wiser than me will find a way to make sense of all this. And I stand ready to do my part to make sure our country remains a place to be proud of. I love what Amy Bruinsma says today on Her View from Home,

We have an opportunity to meet ignorance with understanding. We have an opportunity to bring light into this thick cloud of dark.

Fear will knock, its beckon louder and louder, don’t leave it on the other side of the door. Answer the knock with courage.

And she provides this quote:

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.’ Nelson Mandela

She offers a Canadian’s perspective on our election, and she beautifully describes why this impacts all of us – not just those of us in the United States. It’s more than an election; it’s about our very freedom and way of life.

Glennon Doyle Melton at Momastery reminds us that women have always been warriors, and whatever happens, we’ll continue to be warriors. She tells us,

We are not what just happened. But we might be what we do next.

The next right thing has and forevermore will be: Get back to work.

 

From Tattered to Tough, Shattered to Strong

 

The best we can do is spread a message of kindness, love & respect, especially to our kids – three infinitely difficult concepts in times like this. Unfortunately, the ugly campaign made the lack of these 3 traits normalized to an unprecedented degree. I still fear that the incivility that has characterized this campaign has become the new normal and that our divisions will only become more pronounced.

But we march on and do our best to raise a new generation. Hopefully one that will turn out to be more thoughtful and united than the current one. As an older people, we must think of our younger voters and children as we address the challenges that will inevitably present themselves. What can we do to ensure that they have every opportunity to build bright futures? How can we open our hearts and minds to every son and daughter of our nation, whether they are black, white, brown or yellow; straight, gay or trans; able-bodied or differently-abled?

 

It Won’t Be Easy But We Can Do It

 

We must educate one another about the problems in our communities and work together to find solutions. This means stepping up to fill a need rather than sitting back and letting someone else do it. And it means practicing patience (hard to do), teaching tolerance and appreciation of differences (also hard to do), and allowing ourselves to be in uncomfortable situations. Sometimes sitting in discomfort is just the thing we need to move us to action.

It means loving the unlovable, walking in another’s shoes and fighting injustice and divisiveness with everything we have, so we can all contribute to building a more perfect union. It means examining our systems and institutions to be sure they’re working for everyone and re-learning how to compromise and cooperate – vitally important skills we learn at the earliest age but seem to have forgotten.

Our democracy asserts that public servants serve the public, not just the people who agree with them. So make sure your public servants know what you need, and hold them accountable for addressing our collective challenges. And be sure to do your part to actively participate in local, regional and national community affairs. Our democracy depends on us all working together. As members of this republic, this is our job. Let’s do it well.

We’re can only get better when we share and support on another. Whether your candidate won or lost, what can you do to help move us all forward during this contentious time? Leave your comments below (and please be thoughtful and respectful of each other).

 

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Birthday Fun and a Bubbly Beauty Must-Have

Birthday photo

Celebrating my 50th birthday! (Photo courtesy Kraig Haver, my awesomely talented brother-in-law.)

 

Celebrating birthdays can be festive or frightening, depending on how you look at it. I just celebrated a BIG birthday, and this year I chose to embrace it. I have been noticeably absent on my blog for the past 2 months. This fall has brought more stress than I anticipated. With new schedules and changing responsibilities, I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed. But as I approached my birthday, I decided to try to let go of the stress and focus on the joyful moments life brings instead.

 

Birthdays All Start with Family

 

Those joyful moments started with a fabulous weekend with my family to celebrate our decades birthdays. In this special year, my niece, two of my sisters and I all reach(ed) a decade milestone. With four of us turning 30, 40, 50 and 60, we thought it was time for a celebration. So my sisters, my mom and my niece gathered in Austin, TX for a weekend of fun and family, including some wonderful family photos compliments of my photographer brother-in-law.

decades birthday family

The Decades and the Middle Ages (those with the gold stars, not celebrating a decade birthday this year)

 

We enjoyed a weekend full of amazing food, hilarious games, an afternoon of painting and overall silliness, relaxation and the kind of fun that you can only have with those who know you best.

 

birthday collage

Mom with the Decades Ladies, scrumptious dumplings, painting fall colors & getting “space-y”

 

Bubble Wrapping Our Weekend

 

Perhaps the most fun we had was our late night beauty treatment on our last night together. After 3 days of good times, we got a little loopy and decided it was time to give ourselves a home spa experience. Because everyone needs a little pampering before boarding a plane at the end of a great weekend.

 

bubble mask jar

 

My sister pulled out her jar of Elizavecca Milky Piggy Carbonated Bubble Clay Mask. (You can’t even say that without smiling. Go ahead, try it!) After slathering this stuff all over our faces, the hilarity rose to a whole new level. Once it goes on, it starts to fizz and bubble and puff up. All. Over. Your. Face. It gets tickly and tingly and altogether fabulous! We couldn’t stop laughing, even as our faces were getting ultimate beautification.

 

birthday bubble masks

 

After 15-20 minutes, once we finally stopped laughing, we rinsed away the bubbles. This stuff leaves your skin fresh, smooth and dewy with a perfectly clean feeling. And almost 3 full weeks later, my skin still feels smooth! With my aging skin, I’ve struggled over the past year with my skin feeling dull and needing exfoliation almost all the time. But this stuff finally solved my problem. I’m sold. And the best part? Not only did this provide me with a lasting happy memory, you can order it on Amazon for around $8. Click the link below if you want to try it!

(This is an affiliate link. This means I may earn a commission (at no extra cost to you) if you purchase something using my links. Note that I only recommend products I believe in. Your support is appreciated!)

 

The Birthday Fun Doesn’t Have to End!

 

Here’s a thought … if you have Amazon Prime and you order today, you can have it hand before Halloween. (If you don’t have Amazon Prime, click the link at the bottom of this post to start a 30-day Free Trial Membership.) And if handing out candy is your job, why not answer the door while making your skin silky smooth? You won’t even need a costume!

This really has been a fantastic birthday month. I’m having so much fun that I think I’ll keep celebrating as long as my friends and family will let me. After all, a big birthday deserves that kind of attention, and I think I’ve earned it.

Here’s wishing you all joy, laughter and love in your lives on your birthday and always!

What special ways to you celebrate milestones? Do you have any fun beauty products to share that really work? Tell me about them in the comments. I’d love to hear your ideas!
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Back to School for Moms (and Other Adults)

Back to school for moms

Photo credit: Chris Metcalf on flickr

 

In our little corner of Arizona, the kids have already gone back to school. So while we’re knee deep in new schedules, new teachers and new priorities (more homework, anyone?), I know some of you are still winding up your summer and getting ready for back-to-school shopping. So I offer you this somewhat unconventional approach to how to approach back to school.

Our school supply shopping was done back in June thanks to a program our school offers that packages all the supplies you need for the following year. It’s so easy to go to the website, pick my kids’ classes and order the packages with one click. It probably costs a little more than what I could find in the stores, but the time it saves me is well worth it. Plus, the supplies get delivered directly to my kids’ classrooms, so I don’t have to load up the van to get all their paper, pencils and binders to school. That’s a definite win to me.

I know not all schools do this, so if you’re braving the school supply aisles at your local Target, Wal-Mart or Office Depot, I’m rooting for you! Just remember to breathe deeply and keep telling yourself that you can do it. (And be glad your kid’s school supply list doesn’t look like this one.)

 

Back to School for Moms

 

Back to school shopping doesn’t have to be stressful or dreaded if you take advantage of it to get some things you’ll love, too. And with sale prices in abundance, take this opportunity to treat yourself to some grown-up back to school supplies that you otherwise wouldn’t buy.

As a writer, I love to have an abundance of paper and writing implements on hand at all times. This means that back to school time is the perfect opportunity to replenish my supply. With every store stocked to the brim with supplies and great sales on everything on your list, you can’t go wrong. I, personally, have a spiral notebook obsession. I use them for everything from writing key points at my kids’ parent-teacher conferences to jotting down a recipe, shopping list or new blog ideas. And at 17 cents each at Target, this is the time I stock up for the year. Grab one in every color and you’ll never be lacking for a simple notebook for your everyday needs.

I also love a good pen and some of my favorites are perfect for my latest love – my bullet journal (or as my son calls it, my “everything book”). My husband had an appointment somewhere recently, and he borrowed someone’s pen. Well, he liked it so much that he bought some Pilot Precise V7 pens for us to use at home, and they have quickly become our favorite pens. So, right now I’m coveting this set of colored Pilot pens (affiliate link) to use in my bullet journal. I love that they write smoothly and they don’t run or bleed. They would definitely add a little pizzazz to my journal and perhaps serve to inspire more creativity in me.

 

My sister also is bullet journaling, and her actual journal (the Leuchtturm Dot Journal in the affiliate link) is amazing! Rich, luxurious paper with subtle dots and bleed-proof pages. Trust me, it’s a dreamy journal. Way more expensive than my everyday spiral notebooks, but moms deserve nice things, too. I haven’t broken down to buy one for myself, yet, because more than half of my current journal remains empty. But it’s definitely on my list, and back to school priced! Maybe I’ll break down and do it. I’ll just stick it in a drawer until I’m ready to use it.

 

Back to School – College Edition

 

Remember, back to school time involves more than just little ones. Your young adults are headed back to college, too. As a former college administrator, I know that many students find great deals on textbooks by shopping around. With the price of books so high, it’s worth checking out Amazon and other retailers to see if you can save a few bucks. Just be careful to check for the right edition and/or publication date since you don’t want your student to be lost in the wrong version of the book. And keep in mind that some professors bundle materials that can only be found in your campus bookstore. But if it’s a standard book, definitely check out Amazon.

Did you know Amazon also offers an Amazon Student subscription? I really wish I’d had this when I was in school. It offers unlimited free 2-day shipping on textbooks and other items (with no minimum purchase requirement), special deals and promotions just for students, and more. For a free trial membership, click on the link below. The trial period is a whopping 6 months, after which you can cancel. But if you choose to purchase the membership, the cost is $49, which is 50% off the regular prime membership fee. Totally worth it in my opinion.

Join Prime Student FREE Two-Day Shipping for College Students

Of course, you can take advantage of back to college sales, too. Think about all the things you put off buying, but could totally snag deals on now. Sheets, towels, storage products … all the stuff college students need, but moms need, too. Target and Wal-Mart, Kohls and Macy’s all offer great deals on home goods at this time of year. Of course, check out discount retailers as well. Places like Home Goods, TJ Maxx and Tuesday Morning that offer great prices year round will often stock up on these items because they know people are shopping for their college students.

Here are a few things that I bought recently (affiliate links).

Sheet sets at an amazing price:

 

Organizer cubes for toys and other loose items:

 

A messenger bag/briefcase for my husband since he just started a new job:

 

And a Few Extra Goodies … Just Because

 

If you’re loading up your shopping cart with back to school items you need, why not throw in a couple of things just because. Perhaps you still like to feel like you’re exercising your mind, but you also need a little stress relief. This beautiful adult coloring book will tap into the creative part of you AND allow you to contemplate where mathematics plays a role in our everyday world. It’s gorgeous! Throw them in your bag and the next time you find yourself at dance/swim/gymnastics/(insert kid activity here) practice, you’ll always have something to pass the time.

 

And don’t forget the pencils and pencil sharpener. These are a great value:


 

Next, just because we are huge Harry Potter fans and we’re enjoying the latest story in the saga, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child fits the bill for those wait times as well. The chapters (scenes) are short and the story satisfyingly different from the others while maintaining a connection to the previous seven books. The authors have included some interesting twists and turns. And although it takes a few pages to get used to reading it since it’s in script form, once you adjust, it’s easy to follow. It’s also fun to imagine how it all plays out on a stage, which makes it a different experience than the other books.

 

And last, with all the kids back in school and the full range of after school activities starting, I can’t have enough hand sanitizer. I know that good hygiene is the key to keeping everyone healthy, but when you’re rushing out the door or your kid wants a snack after touching everything in the sweaty gym, hand sanitizer works in a pinch. CleanWell is my absolute favorite natural product. It costs a little more than your standard Purell, but I’m not a fan of alcohol or chemical based sanitizers, so I’m willing to pay a little more. This one kills germs with a plant-based formula that smells great and doesn’t sting little hands that might have a few play-induced cuts and scrapes on them. I buy them in bulk so I always have some on hand, and maybe buy an extra package to share with your teachers — they’ll appreciate it.

Purse/backpack size for on the go:

And regular size for at home:

 

I really hope you take advantage of back to school shopping to find some things you really love. After all, back to school involves more than just the kids, and moms deserve to have some fun things in our shopping carts as well.

What things make back to school shopping more fun for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

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Blueberry Pastry Dream: the Perfect Summer Dessert

Blueberry pastry

Beautiful blueberries for my Blueberry Pastry Dream

 

Blueberries went on sale last week. I mean a serious sale. I bought my beauties for under $1 per pint. But even better … they were Buy 1, Get 2 FREE! Yes, you read that right. I even had to check with the cashier to make sure I had read the sign correctly, but I did, and I merrily went home with 3 pints of blueberries ready to be loved.

What to do with these luscious, plump little berries? I put them in cereal, made a couple of fruit mixes, and of course, popped them in my mouth right out of the package. But 3 pints is a lot of berries, so I had to get creative. Not wanting to make too much work for myself, I looked around to see what I had or what I could get pretty easily.

 

Blueberry Pastry Dream is Born

We just came back from vacation in Oregon. And while we ate lots of summer fruits, surprisingly blueberries didn’t make it into our rental kitchen. But, my husband bought a lovely blueberry pastry at the coffee shop in the airport on our way home, and it looked delicious. So I began to think about how I could create something similar without a lot of work.

In the deli drawer of my refrigerator, I found a tub of mascarpone cheese. Apparently we made something with it recently (I can’t remember what) because it was half-empty. But that was just the thing I needed to make the blueberry pastry dream a reality.

If you’ve never used mascarpone, this would be a lovely way to try it. It’s a soft Italian cheese product that’s more creamy than cheesy. It stirs up like a whipped cream cheese might, but it has a milder flavor and smoother texture. It makes desserts like tiramisu irresistible and pasta or risotto dishes creamy and decadent. You can find it with the specialty cheeses in your regular grocery store.

I used the mascarpone as the pastry filling, to give the blueberries a foundation on which to float their berry goodness. Then I put it all in a convenient store-bought sheet of puff pastry and baked it. It turned out simply divine with just the right amount of sweet and tart on flaky, buttery pastry shell.

 

Putting It All Together

The step by step process was super simple. Here’s how I did it:

 

Blueberry pastry filling

Stir together 4 ounces of mascarpone cheese with some sugar and vanilla. This will be your pastry filling.

 

Blueberry pastry crust

Take one sheet of thawed puff pastry dough (in the frozen section of the grocery store), and fold the edges in to make a little wall. This will hold all of the blueberries and filling in the pastry.

 

Spread filling for the blueberry pastry

Spread your mascarpone filling in the prepared pastry shell. There should be enough for a thin layer to reach all the way to the walls you made in your pastry shell.

 

Blueberry pastry ready for the oven

Layer one pint of blueberries on top of your filling and inside the pastry walls. Brush the walls with a little melted butter and sprinkle the whole thing with some coarse sugar. Then pop it in the oven and let the magic happen!

 

What comes out will be a lovely Blueberry Pastry Dream with a crisp, flaky outer crust and a mildly sweet center. What could be better than that?

Blueberry pastry dream

Here’s the printable recipe. I hope you enjoy!

 

Print Recipe
Blueberry Pastry Dream
A lovely dessert or brunch item featuring plump summer blueberries.
Blueberry Pastry Dream
Course Dessert
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
Course Dessert
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
Blueberry Pastry Dream
Instructions
  1. Thaw frozen puff pastry shell according to package directions.
  2. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F.
  3. In a small bowl, mix mascarpone cheese with granulated sugar and vanilla. Start with a small amount of sugar. Give it a taste and add more if you like it sweeter. I used about 1 1/2 tablespoons.
  4. Place thawed puff pastry sheet on a lightly floured parchment paper on a baking pan.
  5. Fold in edges of pastry to make a little wall. Be sure all edges are firmly stuck together.
  6. Spread mascarpone mixture in a thin layer in the center of the puff pastry shell. Feel free to take the filling all the way to the inner edge of the pastry walls.
  7. Layer 1 pint of blueberries on top of the mascarpone filling.
  8. Melt 1 tablespoon butter and brush around the edge of the pastry (on the folded wall).
  9. Sprinkle coarse sugar over the top of the blueberries and around the edge of the pastry. This will give the crust an added crunch. If you don't have coarse sugar, you can skip this step or try a sprinkle of regular sugar.
  10. Bake for 20 minutes or until the crust is puffed and golden brown.
  11. Once cooled, remove pastry from parchment and onto a serving dish or platter. Serve as is or add a dusting of powdered sugar to make it look pretty.
  12. Enjoy!
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