Thursday, March 31, 2011

Tell Me Thursday - Viola

Colin is in the red shirt, with his viola.  He is playing at ASU, as part of the Strings Project.  Graduate and undergraduate music students teach elementary kids on Saturday morning so that the kids can improve their playing, and the students are able to practice teaching.

He started a month or so ago, and I am very pleased with the efforts of everyone involved.

When we toured the public school before school began this year, I told him I wanted him to join the orchestra.  He threw a mini-fit at the time. We circled back to the table with orchestra information and I repeated my desire for him to consider the orchestra.  He looked at me like I was mad.

School started, and kids had the opportunity to meet with the orchestra teacher to see if they were interested.  I insisted that he attend.  He came home excited about the opportunity to play viola.

He doesn't practice nearly as often as I'd like, but he truly enjoys playing and has had a wonderful year.  He takes private lessons once a week, in addition to the Strings Project and orchestra at school.  He recently told me that he wants to try out for Phoenix Youth Symphony next year.  (I hope that means he plans to practice more often!)  He has also shared that he wants to keep learning so that when he is in high school he can offer private lessons to help earn money for college.

I never took up an instrument, but I remember the lovely music my sister played on her flute & trombone.  I'm glad he's excited about music, and I hope that it becomes a lifelong hobby for him.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wordless Wednesday - Viola

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Pillsbury Bake-Off (Giveaway)

Are you an amazing home cook?  Do your neighbors come over at dinnertime in hopes of being invited over? Are you always asked to bring food when you're invited out?

Have you ever considered entering the Pillsbury Bake-Off?  This contest is in its 45th year!  Entries are being accepted online until Apri1 18, 2011 at  There are 4 categories that you can choose from:

  • Breakfast & Brunches
  • Entertaining Appetizers
  • Dinner Made Easy™
  • Sweet Treats
100 lucky finalists will compete in Florida during March, 2012.  You will find contest details, including eligible products, prizes and the official rules, on the web site --

To help give you some motivation, I have a fun giveaway to send to one of my readers.  Tell me your best recipe (just the name is fine) and I will draw one comment randomly to receive this adorable apron, a pen to take notes with, and a copy of Bake-Off 100 Winning Recipes booklet.

To enter the giveaway, click THIS LINK and answer the questions in the Google Form.  The giveaway name is Bake-Off and the mandatory question is noted above (tell me your best recipe). This giveaway will be open until April 5, 2011. 

*Disclosure: My Blog Spark and General Mills sent me the prize pack shown above, and will send another to one of my readers.  No additional compensation was provided. *

Monday, March 28, 2011


During my college years, I had the opportunity to spend spring break traveling in Europe and staying in youth  hostels.  Our first morning, we headed to the breakfast tables and saw a large bowl of what looked like melted chocolate.  A fellow student, who had traveled to Europe in the past, said "Oh, yea, that's Nutella.  It's just like Ovaltine -- full of vitamins!"  My friend and I looked at each other, spread some on a croissant and immediately fell in love.  We told each other "Hey!  It's full of vitamins!" and we enjoyed it every chance we got.

Once back in the States, I looked for it in the grocery store, and realized that it was NOT full of vitamins like Ovaltine.  That didn't take away from its deliciousness, however.  Nutella is a creamy, hazelnut spread flavored with cocoa.  It's wonderful spread on a croissant, toast, or paired with peanut butter for the perfect sandwich.  And, while it may not be full of vitamins, in moderation it is a wonderful food to add to the breakfast table.

I recently had the opportunity to share some Nutella and breakfast recipes with some friends of mine.  I had every intention to have the party at home (but have  you noticed how busy our family is lately?) so I had the party in my office instead.  My work friends appreciated the break and loved having the chance to sample Nutella and learn more about good breakfast choices.

Moderation is the key for everything, and there is no reason I can't reasonably enjoy a bit of chocolate as part of a well-balanced meal.  In some of the material I received, Connie Evers (child nutrition expert & mother of three) answered the question "What is the best breakfast to serve my child in the morning?" with the response: "The 'best' breakfast is the one that will be eaten!"

That made me laugh, because it is so true.  When we first started school this year, mornings were a definite struggle.  I know the importance of starting the day with a good breakfast, so I worked hard to find breakfast foods that 1. the boys would eat and 2. they could make themselves.  Toasting a piece of bread and topping it with Nutella and sliced bananas is definitely a breakfast my boys are not only able to make themselves, but also will eat!  Pour a glass of milk and breakfast is served. Another favorite breakfast are toasted waffles with nutella and peanut butter, sometimes with sliced strawberries. 

Some nutritional information about Nutella:
  • Each 13 oz jar contains more than 50 hazelnuts
  • NO hydrogenated oil or trans fat
  • No artificial colors or preservatives
It can be found in most grocery stores near the peanut butters and jellies.  If you haven't tried it yet, I suggest picking up a jar during your next grocery visit! 

*Disclosure: I received a party pack with samples and information, thanks to Nutella and Mommy Parties.  No additional compensation was provided.*

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Tell Me Thursday - Amococo

Yesterday's photo was of Nate in the Amococo exhibit we visited over the weekend.  It was a pretty cool art installation -- called a luminarium.  It was a large, inflated maze with different colored panels so the different areas took on different shades of color.  It was interesting, and cool to experience.

We were told the artist called it "amococo" for the Latin word for love and his nickname for his son -- so it seemed appropriate that I posted a picture of one of my loved sons.

If it comes to your area, you should check it out!  It was here for less than a week, and I'm glad we visited.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Johnsonville Sausage - Yum!

Little League nights are long nights.  We have to head out by 5 to make a 5:30 practice, and don't leave the fields until after 7.  Thankfully, Bo's new job means that unless he's traveling, he is usually home in the evenings.  So, one of us can run the kids around to their activities (Little League is 3 nights, music is one night, who knows what else is coming up?) while the other can stay home and cook dinner.

Thanks to Johnsonville Sausage and SheSpeaks, I was able to put this dinner together quickly so I could get some work done while waiting for the boys to return from Little League.

I received coupons to purchase the Johnsonville sausage you see to the left, and a great recipe booklet. I picked up rigatoni noodles and tomato sauce at the store and was ready to make a dinner almost everyone in my family would enjoy.

The sausages grilled up nicely on our stovetop grill while I boiled the noodles.  When the noodles were almost done, I drained them and added them to a pan full of sauce.  I sliced the sausage, added them to the noodles and sauce and put the pan on simmer while waiting for them to return.

I baked a loaf of garlic bread, served a salad, and topped the dish with shredded romano.  Dinner was declared a success!  Everyone in the family enjoyed it (well, except for Colin - he doesn't like tomato sauce so he had noodles w/butter and sausage.  Still a success for him!)

Here's the family's reaction to dinner:

I have a few coupons to share with my wonderful readers!  Leave a comment below and 3 of you will receive $1.50 coupons towards your next purchase of Johnsonville sausage.

*Disclosure: I received coupons and recipes from Johnsonville, via SheSpeaks.  All opinions are my own, as well as photographs and videos.*

Travel Dreams

If you know me at all, you know I like to travel. I think we do a fair amount of traveling as a family, but if money were no object, we would do quite a bit more! Whenever those "If you won the lottery" questions come up, travel always figures in as a way to spend my winnings -- right after paying off the mortgage.

When I read this post about tying travel to Oscar nominated movies, I thought about the places I would like to visit that were listed.  Of course, Paris, France is high on that "no-worry-about-cost" list, and we just watched the movie Inception this week. (Although, I didn't understand why they flew to Paris . . . except as a way to connect with his FIL, but why would he be teaching in Paris anyway? Ok, I get it, it was a dream . . . so back to my dream travels.)

After Paris, we'd head off to London, England and relive some of the scenes from The King's Speech.  While I have been to Paris, I've never been to London and I would like to visit someday.  Eat fish & chips and see the sights and not worry about a language barrier!  (I still remember the French laughing at my laughable attempt to speak French.)

Of course, there are still plenty of places I'd like to visit right here in the United States as well.  Since that is more in my budget, maybe a trip to Santa Fe, NM could be in the cards this year!  (After we watch True Grit, of course!)

What about you?  Where would you travel if money were no object?  What movies have prompted you to visit (or want to visit) different places?

*Disclosure: This is a sponsored post. *

Wordless Wednesday - Amococo

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Tell Me Thursday - Single Bloom

Nate came in from the yard the other day with this sweet yellow bloom and presented it to me.  I was in the middle of doing something, so I asked him to put it in some water. 

He had plucked the flower without a stem, so he floated it in a Tupperware container and placed it carefully on our table. 

It was a sweet gesture from a boy who clearly loves his mom and knows her love of yellow (except for cars -- no yellow cars, please!)

I snapped this shot with the Hipstamatic app on my iPhone and played with the lenses and film choices to get the brightened colors.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Wordless Wednesday - Single Bloom

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Disney on Ice Princess Classics! (Phoenix Discount Code)

I have shared my love of Disney on Ice shows multiple times on this blog.  It seems that each show is better than the last, but I have to tell you that I am really looking forward to the one coming to Phoenix in April!

When we visited Disneyland last December, Lydia visited all the princesses we could find.  We even enjoyed the Princess Lunch, so I know she is going to be excited about a Disney on Ice show that is completely devoted to Disney princesses.

From the press release:

Princess Classics is an amazing journey to the magical lands of Disney’s classic fairy tales. Travel to a kingdom under the sea, an enchanted French castle, an Arabian palace and more! With special guest Tinker Bell, enter the worlds of your favorite Disney princesses – Cinderella, Jasmine, Ariel, Sleeping Beauty, Belle, Mulan and Snow White – and see their dreams come true as this royal skating extravaganza brings magic to your hometown!

The show will at the US Airways Center in Phoenix from April 7 - 10, 2011.  As a special to blog readers, you can purchase 4 tickets for only $44 - good for the Friday, April 8th 10:30am and 7:30pm shows; Saturday, April 9th 7:30pm show; and the Sunday, April 10th 1:30 and 5:30pm show (excluding Front Row and VIP seating).   To receive the discount, use the code MOM at  (Additional tickets can be purchased for $11 each.  Service charges, handling and facility fees are additional.)

*Disclosure: In exchange for sharing information about the show, my family will receive tickets for opening night, thanks to Feld Entertainment.  No additional compensation was provided, all opinions are my own.*

Monday, March 14, 2011

Life is Speeding Along

Life is a whirlwind these days.  I'm not complaining, just stating a fact.  One day last week, this is what my day looked like:

Woke up late.  Bo was out of town, so his internal alarm didn't back me up when my phone didn't charge and my alarm didn't play.  Thankfully, I woke up in time to get the boys up and to school before the bell rang . . .

BUT, I was supposed to volunteer at the school at 8AM. I dropped the boys off at 7:45.  I couldn't take Lydia with me, so I had to drive 15 minutes away to drop her at childcare and then 15 minutes back to school.  Thankfully, the 8AM start time wasn't firm . . . they really didn't need me until 8:30 so I was on time, sort of.

I volunteered at school for 3 hours, having a fun time helping out with Field Day.  The kids had a blast, and I had fun with a group of Nate's classmates.

I left the school at 11:15, and stopped home for a moment and was on my way out the door to pick up Lydia when the Health Office called to let me know that Colin was sick.  So, I headed back to school again and signed him out, calling the pediatrician on the way.

I picked up Colin, we headed over to pick up Lydia by noon, stopped at Sonic for some lunch and made it to the doctor's appointment at 1:10.  He was diagnosed with a sinus infection, and we got out of there just in time to pick up Nate after school and head to Target to fill his prescription.

Fed Nate snacks at Target while waiting for the prescription, then home again by 4 to quickly put together some sort of dinner and out the door before 5 to make it to Little League practice.

With a few variations, that's been my days lately.  Almost non-stop activities -- but with fun stuff thrown in like the afternoon we spent at the zoo last week, and hopefully more fun things this week as the boys are on spring break. 

I've decided that this summer we're taking a break from everything -- no sports, no music lessons, no dance . . . just a true break from it all!  I'm looking forward to it, but I'm also enjoying the busyness of our days right now.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Primrose Family Dance Off Contest

My kids love to dance.  My boys are shy if they think other people might see them, but they love to dance if they think nobody is watching.  Lydia will dance for anybody and everybody!  The three of them also love being outdoors, so it made perfect sense to have them show off their dance moves in our backyard!  Don't you wish you had their energy?

Primrose Schools is sponsoring the "Family Dance Off" to keep families moving and to benefit Children's Miracle Network Hospitals.  MomSelect and Primrose Schools asked if I would share the information with my readers, and I was happy to do so for this great cause (plus, I love dancing with my kids and watching them dance!)

Families (yes, that means YOU!) are encouraged to show off their best dance moves in a 30 second video and upload it to their site.  The video that receives the most votes will receive a cash prize AND $30,000 will be donated to the Children's Miracle Network Hospital in their area.

It's easy to enter, and if you want to, you can use your Facebook account to connect and register on the site.  You will enter some additional address information, and then upload your video to their site.   (You must upload your video from your computer, you cannot link it from YouTube.) Once that is done, you can share your video and ask for votes!  Everyone has 5 votes per day, so be sure to vote for your favorites on the site.

You have until March 19, 2011, so get those tunes rocking & those video cameras out!

*Disclosure: I received a party package from MomSelect and Primrose Schools in exchange for sharing information about this contest.*

Monday, March 07, 2011

Kids Cooking Academy (Frigidaire)

2 years ago, I was one of the fortunate bloggers to be chosen to be part of Frigidaire's Team Refrigerator.  Since receiving my awesome Frigidaire refrigerator, we've been thrilled with the space and extra features that make preparing and storing food easier. Each day, I am grateful for the crushed ice feature!

Frigidaire recently launched a Kids Cooking Academy, with Jennifer Garner as the spokesperson.  Each day, they post helpful tips to encourage kids to be more active in the kitchen and meal preparation.  They also have wonderful recipes posted and even how-to videos!

I will confess that I want my kids to be more active in the kitchen, but it also stresses me out when they try to help and I'm in a hurry or trying a new recipe. I believe it's important that they are comfortable in the kitchen, so I am trying to be better!

Colin is currently learning how to make scrambled eggs and I realized that I do better when I have the time to step back and guide him through the steps.  I think he'll be ready after a couple more times to make them independently.  I'm also trying harder to involve the kids in the prep-work and accepting that I have to start sooner or eat later!

If you join the Kids Cooking Academy, you can also enter for a chance to win a new oven range.  They are also donating $1 to Save The Children for each visit to the site between now and April 25, 2011.

*Disclosure: I received a gift certificate from Frigidaire in exchange for posting information about Kids Cooking Academy.*

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Polish Dinner - #2 of 12 Cultural Dinners

We had planned to have a Polish dinner in February, but the month got away from us, so we had our Polish dinner tonight.  I decided to keep it simple and we enjoyed kielbasa and saurekraut.

Bo made pierogies from scratch, using dairy free recipes. The dough was simply flour, water and egg.  The filling was also simple -- boiled russet potatoes and sauteed onions mashed together with salt and pepper.  We had never made them before, and while the recipe was simple, the execution was time-consuming.  The results were declared delicious, however!  After running the dough through a pasta maker, he cut the dough into circles and filled with the potatoes. The pierogies were crimped and then boiled.  Bo finished them with a quick saute in the fry pan.  Lydia had a good time sitting on the island and eating huge spoonfuls of the filling.

I searched for a Polish dessert and found that prunes are very popular.  I came across a recipe for Plesniak, or moldy cake, and after reviewing the recipe decided it would be our dessert.  The name "moldy cake" made me laugh.  The cake was a hit, and my siblings happily took home extra cake.  I made the cake with cherry filling.  The dough was more like a cookie dough vs. a cake batter, and the meringue was a unique touch that was interesting, and good.  It's a cake I will definitely make again in the future!

Russia is next on the list, and I've already been told not to bother serving borscht. I'm not sure what we'll serve, but I'll let you know as soon as we serve the meal!

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Tell Me Thursday - Travel with kids: Tucson

This sweet picture was taken in the Space exhibit of the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson, AZ.  We headed to Tucson a couple weeks ago for a short trip away.  Bo & I originally visited this museum before Colin was born, so it's been more than 10 years.  A visit as an adult couple, and a visit with 3 kids is definitely different!

All the kids had a great time looking at all of the airplanes and helicopters. There are over 100 outside alone!  The day we went it was windy and a bit chilly, but that didn't dampen the fun or the excitement. I was happy to see that they had food available in the museum, so we were able to go straight to the museum after our drive from Mesa, look around for a bit, have some lunch and then look around some more.

 Even though Tucson is only a couple hours away, we decided to spend the night because I have wanted to visit the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum since we moved out here in 1999.  Since we were in Tucson, I didn't want any chance that we missed the museum again!  It turned out a good plan to visit the 2nd day of our trip, as the wind had died down and the sun came out.
I considered the cost of admission for one day vs. an annual membership and decided to purchase a family membership.  For only $12 more, we can visit as many times as we want before next March.  And, having a membership means that we WILL make the trip to visit throughout the year.  In fact, Nate already asked if we could go again for his birthday.

When we were walking the trails, I called it a museum and Lydia (3yo) stopped, looked at me and said "MOM! Stop calling it a museum.  It's a atonimcal* garden obviously!!" (botanical garden)  I admit I was secretly pleased that I'm raising a child who recognized a botanical garden vs. a museum.

We had an absolutely lovely day, and if we didn't need to be back in Mesa in time for music lessons we would have stayed until they closed.   Everyone enjoyed themselves and the trails and exhibits were great.  Colin took over the map and did a great job navigating us through and making sure we hit all the high spots.

And, of course, my favorite eatery of Tucson is Eegee's.  Bo always brings me back Eegee's when he travels there for business, so it was nice to grab one on our way out of town.  The flavor for February was Cherry and it was delicious! 

As far as the details of traveling with the kids, it was a dream.  I am so fortunate that all 3 of my children are excellent travelers. They kept themselves amused on the drive, adapted easily to the hotel (we chose a suite with a pull out bed), and were well-behaved while visiting the museums.  It helped that they were outdoors quite a bit and were able to run and move as needed!

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Congrats to Colin!

We found out last week that Colin won FIRST PLACE in a district-wide writing contest!  He entered in the Short Story category, and his story was chosen from all the stories submitted by 2nd through 6th graders.  We are so proud of him!!

He wrote a story about Lydia inventing a "writer's block ear bud" for her brother, Nate.  He struggled to find a good topic that would fit the requirements and also appeal to the judging audience.  He wished for a way to get over writer's block, and thus the idea for his story was born! 

His principal brought him up on stage during a recent all-school assembly.  He was the only winner from his school.  His story will be published in a book that will be distributed to all the district libraries.

I thought it funny that he chose to wear his "Thing 1" shirt the day of the assembly!  (Nate and Lydia have "Thing 2" and "Thing 3" shirts.)

Wordless Wednesday - Tucson

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

February 2011 Reading List

It feels like I forgot a couple books, but here's my reading list for February.  All were read either on my Kindle, or from the iPhone Kindle app. 

Uncubicled by Josh McMains.  I picked this up either when it was free or less than $2.  It looks like the book is now split into 2 books for some reason.  I didn't have any expectations, but it was a pretty good read with some twists and turns that I didn't expect.  Technology and mind games combined for an interesting story.

Valeria's Last Stand by Marc Fitten.  I grabbed this one because it was set in an Hungarian village (my great-grandmother immigrated from Hungary) and it was free.  I would have been happy to pay for this book because it was terrific!  It's a love story, but not like any that I've ever read before, because almost all of the characters are well past their 30's. Fitten did a fantastic job creating his characters and I was so invested in the story that I read it on both my Kindle and iPhone app.  (I usually read 2 different books on each -- but this one kept me interested so I made sure to sync the 2 so I could keep reading in spare moments.) 

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.  I remember that I borrowed this book from the library when it was first released, but couldn't get into it.  Now that I look at the publication date, I realize that it wasn't that long after Lydia's birth when it came out, so I was probably sleep-deprived.  I'm glad I picked it up again, because I thought it was a good story. I especially liked how Gruen created the older version of the main character, and I felt that the story moved smoothly between current time and 60 years prior.

Bake Sale Murder by  Leslie Meier.  I enjoy these mystery series with a strong female character.  I've read a few in this series, and while I'm usually irritated by something in the character, it's not enough to keep me from reading.  The book is a quick read, and perfect for those lost moments when I only have 5 - 10 minutes to read.

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen.  Somewhere I read a comment that this was one of the best Jane Austen novels.  I've never been a fan, but going along with my decision to read (or re-read) more classics I chose this one for February. I still don't like Jane Austen.  I think the book could have been finished in less than half the pages and I wanted to smack almost all the characters up the side of their heads.  What a bunch of insipid, annoying, ridiculous people that populated the book.  I forced myself to finish it, and the ending was exactly what I expected around page 10.  bleck.  Next month I'm reading Edith Wharton, because I adore her novels.

The Hangman's Daughter by Oliver Potzsch.  Another book that I really enjoyed.  It is set in the 1600's, and is based on the author's family, who were executioners for generations. I liked the mystery and the history and thought it was very well-done.  It was the kind of book that took me a little bit to get into, and then parts of it disturbed/frightened me, but I couldn't put it down because I had to know what happened next.  I don't know that this author plans to make this a series, but I would like to read more about the characters if he did!
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