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Snapshots: Thinking, Reading, Doing, Snapping and Eating (Summer 2015)

August 13, 2015

The Snapshots post is back! Here’s a look at what I’ve been doing, watching and so forth this summer.

san diego sunset

Thinking and Doing …

This has not been the relaxing summer that I hoped to have. Don’t get me wrong — it has not been bad and I am certainly grateful to sleep in! But the summer started with drama that was not planned (Is it ever?) and then a death in the (not immediate) family.

A few weeks ago I had minor surgery to remove a parathyroid gland from my neck. I’ll spare you the detailed explanation; but if your curious why I had surgery, you can read about hyperparathyroidism here. The good news is I was not sick in the traditional sense, and the surgery cured the problem.

I had a lot of anxiety in the weeks leading up to the surgery (contributing to the un-relaxing summer). It’s funny because five years ago, I had sinus surgery and I don’t recall feeling that nervous beforehand (although the recovery was long). But this time around, I was way more stressed before and the aftermath was easier.

I spent a pleasant night in the hospital where I pretty much slept and watched a Law & Order: SVU marathon. — And while I’m on the subject, I have to say that I find it extremely comforting to know that no matter where I am or what time it is, Law & Order is always on television. — The pain went away fairly quickly and the incision on my neck should fade away over the next few months. I’ll spare you a photo of me and my neck scar. 😉

So now it’s mid-August and we’re trying to work on our Summer Bucket List. I’m actually grateful Sophie still has three weeks left of summer vacation. I’m not ready for it to end!

radio flyer wagons

Watching …

Besides reading, I really like getting lost in a good television show. I prefer character-driven drama, usually with a dark side and flawed characters. No zombies, aliens or vampires. And I find it hard to escape in comedy, and I don’t do reality TV (with the exception of Shark Tank).

It’s been hard to find anything to sink into the way I did with The Killing. I was able to binge-watch it again this summer because Bryan hadn’t seen it. Thankfully he liked it as much as I did. I also really liked Bloodline on Netflix. We finally just watched season 4 of Homeland, which I thought was so much better than season 3. I think the key to success with that show is the binge-watch makes it a better experience.

Do you watch much television? Do you have a show to recommend to me?

new books

Reading …

What I’ve been reading are all the books on my summer reading list. I still have many more to go. But that didn’t stop me from scooping up the books above during a recent trip to Goodwill, the thrift store and the Barnes & Noble bargain section. I’m pretty excited about my finds! Have you read any of them?

ice cream sandwich

Eating …

Pretty much a lot of ice cream, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Bryan grew tons of tomatoes in our backyard this year and now they’re ripe and delicious. I’ve pinned tons of tomato recipes to make.  I also made this blueberry custard pie the other night. It was delicious, but I couldn’t get a great photo. I’ll have to put one on Instagram instead.

Snapping …

Ice cream at the San Diego County Fair

sophie ice cream fair

Summer = sidewalk chalk art

chalk drawing

Cool coffee paraphernalia at Cafe Moto in San Diego

coffee beans

Playing in colorful streamers at KidsFest

sophie kidsfest

A rainbow of watering cans

watering cans

A little girl chasing monarch butterflies

chasing butterflies

I love my pups!

Leah and dogs

Sophie and I are demonstrating our love of Little House on the Prairie in Old Town San Diego

sophie covered wagon_old town

leah covered wagon_old town

Wishing I bought one of these cute dolls in Old Town

old town dolls

Thanks for reading! So tell me, how has your summer been? What are you watching, reading, eating, cooking and doing?

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A Perfect Playdate Idea for Kids

August 5, 2015

I’m the first to admit that I am a fortunate person. I’m able to make a living working from home. I have a bright and fun daughter who is super creative. And my work and blogging allows me to meet some pretty incredible people. I especially love when all three of these things come together.

I recently met Cam Bowman and Nichole Beaudry, two moms (and bloggers) who wanted to do something unique and make a difference in the lives of kids and parents. Together they founded Avery & Austin, a subscription box company that essentially delivers a #PerfectPlaydate to your door.

The minute I saw the Avery & Austin concept, I loved it and knew it was something I wanted to support. Each month, a box arrives that contains the making of a perfect playdate for kids — a fun and educational craft activity for TWO KIDS; healthy and tasty snacks for TWO KIDS; and a little gift for the mom who is coordinating the playdate.

june kitSpeaking personally, so often Sophie and her friends (and I) like to do crafts, but we don’t always have the supplies. Or we’ll have supplies, but not enough for two people. That’s why I love that the Avery & Austin box comes with enough for both kids on the playdate. And receiving a little gift for me is pretty cool too!

We’ve received two boxes so far and both have been amazing. One had the theme “Artist and Engineer,” and came with two mugs to decorate and brightly colored popsicle sticks for building. And the chocolate banana mini snack bar from 2 Degrees was pretty delicious too!

avery and austin

avery and austin2

Sophie and I could not get enough of the “Make Lemonade” box! It had everything to create a beautiful lemonade stand, including lemonade packets and jars, burlap banner and paint, pinwheel straws, and a beautiful book about how a real kid created a lemonade stand to change the world. Even the mom gift was cosmetics with a lemonade theme!

lemonade

lemonade stand

lemonade2

By the way, a playdate doesn’t always have to involve another friend. It can be a sibling, cousin or grandparent. And yes, I have been Sophie’s Perfect Playdate too.

I want to be clear that this is NOT a sponsored post. While I did receive one complimentary Avery & Austin kit to try, Sophie and I loved the idea so much — and because I like to put my money where my words are — that I purchased an ongoing subscription with my own money. So everything you see here (and all the photos on my social media accounts) has been paid for by me.

Want to try an Avery & Austin #PerfectPlaydate kit? Use the new customer coupon code (TENOFFNOW) to receive $10 off your first box! … If you don’t have kids, you can gift a box to a friend or relative too.

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Chicken Two Ways — It’s What’s For Dinner

July 21, 2015

We eat a lot of chicken in this house. I’m constantly pinning new chicken recipes to get some cooking inspiration, as well as going back to my tried and true dishes. It’s been a while since I’ve share a recipe, so I thought I’d write up two – yes, TWO – chicken dinner ideas for you. I hope you’re hungry!

The first one came to me through the Urban Accents Brine & Bake Kits. I’ve been using their grill seasonings and rubs since trying them last year. I was so excited when they sent me the new brine and bake kits. These are so delicious! The kit includes an overnight brine blend to lock in the juice, a rub for added flavor, and a savory coating for a mouthwatering crunch. (This is NOT sponsored, by the way.)

I first tried the Tuscan Garlic & Herb Chick’n Brine & Bake mix. That’s the chicken tenders using the kit. Look at that deliciousness! Both Bryan and Sophie LOVED them!

Urban Accent chicken

Urban Accents_Tuscan Garlic and Herb

I also tried the Nashville Hot & Spicy, which includes Habanero Hot & Spicy Brine Blend, Peri Peri Chili Spice Blend, and the crispy crust mixture. This one definitely has a kick to it. You can also buy the brine packets alone if you’re not interested in the crunch (but I recommend the crunch).

Urban Accents_Nashville Hot and Spicy brine

El Diablo Chicken

Speaking of heat, let me tell you about my to other chicken recipe: El Diablo Chicken.

This one has a story behind it: After Sophie was born, our friends, Paul and Polly, were so thoughtful and brought us a delicious dinner, which included Paul’s El Dorado Chicken and Cheese Casserole. The comfort of this creamy chicken casserole was so good and the perfect food for two sleep-deprived parents with a newborn.

For the longest time, I forgot the name was El Dorado and I continued to call it El Diablo. Paul was kind enough to share the recipe with me, which I’ve adapted a bit and will now share with you.

This is the easiest casserole to make and people love it. I’ve continued the tradition Paul and Polly started and make this for many families that welcome new babies.

diablo chicken

El Diablo Chicken

  • 1 lb. of chicken breasts (I use one package; it’s usually a little more than 1 lb.)
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup
  • 1 can diced green chiles (mild)
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 cups jack cheese (I use pepper jack to give it some added heat)
  • Several cups of crushed tortilla chips

Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Spray a 13″ x 9″ baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.

Cook the chicken however you feel comfortable in order to get it to a diced or shredded texture. You can boil or bake the chicken, and then dice. Or cook it in the slow cooker all day (I tend to do the slow cooker to save time when cooking). Add the diced onion to the chicken when cooking. When they’re both cooked through, transfer to a mixing bowl.

Add to the cooked chicken: cream of chicken soup, sour cream, green chiles and 1 cup of jack cheese. Mix together.

On the bottom of the baking dish, sprinkle half of the crushed tortilla chips to form one layer. Then spread the chicken mixture over the layer of chips. Top with the remaining cup of cheese and the remaining half of the tortilla chips.

Bake for 30 – 45 minutes. It’s best eaten after you bake it since the chips will be crunchy.

If you want to gift this to a friend who needs a meal, cover it in foil, hold off baking and send along an instruction label for the cooking temperature and time. In the words of Annelle, this meal “freezes beautifully.”

TORTILLA CHIP TIP: You know when you get to the bottom of the bag of tortilla chips and all that’s left are crushed chips not suitable for dipping in salsa? When that happens, I dump all those into a large Ziploc bag and freeze them. I continue adding to that bag so that when I’m ready to make El Diablo chicken, my chips are all ready! It beats having to crush up chips every time.

Do you have a favorite chicken recipe you want to share? I’m always looking for inspiration!

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Your Summer 2015 Reading List is Here

July 13, 2015

While I consider myself an avid reader throughout the year, there’s something about summer that lends itself to reading more frequently. Because Sophie loves to spend many days swimming, my favorite summer activity is laying by the pool reading a book. (Good thing we don’t actually have a pool or I’d never get any work done.) I’ve compiled for you a list of recommended summer reads. These are books that I’ve already read or are in my summer reading pile.

summer reading collageThe Death of Santini, Pat Conroy — This is not a new release, but it was on my Amazon wish list for years. So when I found a hardcover for $1 at a used bookstore, I grabbed it for my summer reading. Ever since Prince of Tides, I’ve loved Pat Conroy’s gripping storytelling. The Death of Santini is a heart-wrenching act of reckoning whose ultimate conclusion is that love can soften even the meanest of men.

The Status of All Things, Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke — I can’t wait to read this one written by two best friends! Here’s the premise: What would you do if you could literally rewrite your fate—on Facebook? This heartwarming and hilarious novel follows a woman who discovers she can change her life through online status updates. Given my feelings about Facebook, this one sounds awesome.

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk, Kelli Estes — Inara Erickson is exploring her deceased aunt’s island estate when she finds an elaborately stitched piece of fabric hidden in the house. As she peels back layer upon layer of the secrets it holds, Inara’s life becomes interwoven with that of Mei Lein, a young Chinese girl mysteriously driven from her home a century before. Through the stories Mei Lein tells in silk, Inara uncovers a tragic truth that will shake her family to its core ― and force her to make an impossible choice. Love that this is inspired by true events.

The Fig Orchard, Layla Fiske — Loved this book that was written by a San Diego author! In an isolated, tradition-bound village high above the Jordan River, 15-year-old Nisrina Huniah is torn between innocent imaginings and looming apprehensions as she marries a man she has never met, only to fall in love on the night they are wed. Her joy takes a heart-wrenching turn when the encroaching World War fiercely shatters her reality, propelling her on an unexpected journey where she develops friendships that ultimately alter her perception of herself and the world around her.

Orphan Train, Christina Baker Kline — Molly Ayer is about to “age out” out of the foster care system. As part of her community service, she helps Vivian sort through her possessions and memories. A young Irish immigrant orphaned in New York City, Vivian was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children whose destinies would be determined by luck and chance. Molly discovers she has the power to help Vivian find answers to mysteries that have haunted her for her entire life—answers that will ultimately free them both.

Better Than Before: Master the Habits of Everyday Lives, Gretchen Rubin — This is not a novel, but I found this book by The Happiness Project author super insightful. I love how she writes about the different types of people and how we form habits. I learned a lot about myself and what motivates me by reading this. Highly recommend!

One Plus One, Jojo Moyes — I have not read Me Before You, which everyone seems to love, but this novel sounds promising. Suppose your life sucks. A lot. Jess’ life basically sucks (disappearing husband, crises with kids), until an unexpected knight in shining armor offers to rescue her. Only Jess’s knight turns out to be an obnoxious tech millionaire whose vacation home she happens to clean.

The Good Girl, Mary Kubica — SO GOOD! I read the majority of this book in one day. It’s a mystery that’s similar to Gone Girl, but with SUCH a more satisfying ending! Mia goes missing one day, and the book is told in the three points of view of her mother, a detective, and her captor, all of which paint a picture of what happened to her.

The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins — Have not read it yet, but anything that is described as an emotionally immersive, Hitchcockian thriller sounds promising to me. Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning where she is obsessed with seemingly perfect life of  two other passengers. And then she sees something shocking, reports it to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved.

Tiny Little Things, Beatriz Williams — I love her books, which take place in the 1950s and 60s and I’m always up for a good family drama tale. In this one, Christina Hardcastle—“Tiny” to her illustrious family—stands on the brink of a breathtaking future. Of the three Schuyler sisters, she’s the one raised to marry a man destined for leadership, and with her elegance and impeccable style, she presents a perfect camera-ready image in the dawning age of television politics. But as the season gets underway at the family estate on Cape Cod, three unwelcome visitors appear in Tiny’s perfect life.

Troika, Adam Pelzman — A young Cuban woman passes her nights dancing in a seedy Florida strip club; a Russian orphan loses everything, then builds a prosperous life for himself in New York; a woman struggles to maintain her dignity and hope after a life-changing accident. The three members of the troika are unexpectedly intertwined and discover a world that forces them to challenge their definitions of commitment, love and trust, a world that heals old wounds and inspires them to transform tragedy into beauty. This book reminds me of The Garden of Last Days by Andre Dubus III, which I loved.

Under a Dark Summer Sky, Vanessa Lafaye — Maybe it’s because I just finished watching Bloodline on Netflix, but this book about tangled relationships set in 1935 Florida really appeals to me. It’s been 18 years since Henry went away to war. Still, Missy has waited and now he’s back, but she barely recognizes the desperate, destitute veteran he’s become. As tensions rise in the small community, a massive hurricane is on its way. Based on real historical events, Under a Dark Summer Sky evokes what happens when people, sweating under the weight of their pasts, are tested to the absolute limits of their endurance.

Thanks for reading this long list of book recommendations! Happy Reading!

Have you read any of these books? I’d love to know what you’re reading this summer. Please give me some recommendations (because clearly I don’t have enough books in my TBR pile).

Want more reading recommendations? Check out the Modern Mrs. Darcy for some great books to add to your list!

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An Explosion of 4th of July Desserts

July 1, 2015

I have made many 4th of July desserts the last few years. Instead of forcing you to search my blog for all the recipes, here’s a handy guide to the recipes.

These cupcakes are my favorite dessert so far. I just love the red, white and blue cake, and sparklers on top. You can find the recipe in this post.

cupcakeI love making flag cakes! I was inspired by the Barefoot Contessa recipe. I used her icing recipe, but the yellow cake inside is a boxed mix.

flag cake

I guess I never posted a recipe for these delicious patriotic cookie bars I made last year. They are SO good. I love how easy they are compared to rolling out actual sugar cookies and using cookie cutters. Here’s the recipe I used and I added some patriotic sprinkles to the batter. You can find the sprinkles at Target or a cake supply store.

cookie barsWe used to make a lot of homemade ice cream; that is before my kitten knocked over the ice cream maker’s plastic cover. Now I just resort to buying it. But before that happened, Sophie and I made this patriotic cake batter ice cream. It was quite tasty. Here’s the post that has the recipe.
ice-creamI know a lot of people are not big Jello fans, but these stars are just too cute not to make. They would be a fun dessert for little kids too. Here’s the recipe. 

jello starsI haven’t decided what I’m making for the 4th of July this year. Better start planning!

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